Chapter 01

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I’ve missed the sun. This winter has been long, cold and extremely wet, so the feeling of its rays browning my skin right now is like being welcomed home after a hard fought battle. There’s a breeze coming off the tides of the Indian Ocean that keeps me comfortable under the insistent and unimpeded sun, and listening to the steady swell and crash of the tide is at once both absorbing and relaxing.

It’s paradise, and that’s what I try to focus on.

Not the beautiful baby girl I’ve left behind, or the miles of beach around us that are exposed and unprotected. Just this. Just the sun.

Christian and I have been in the Maldives for only two of our five planned days, and so far it’s been a struggle to be here and present with him rather than obsessing over what we’ve left behind. When he lured me out of the house Monday morning, all he told me was that he had a Valentine’s surprise. I expected jewelry or an intimate lunch. Maybe a hotel room and a complicated set of restraints to hold me down while we tested out a whole new slew of toys that would leave us both exhausted and well satisfied. What I didn’t expect was Kate and Elliot simultaneously making their way to my house so they could spend the week looking after my baby or the pre-packed bags that Taylor unloaded from the back of the SUV and into Christian’s private jet.

I nearly had a panic attack. My voice broke as the list of reasons we couldn’t leave Seattle poured from my mouth and my hands shook so badly that Christian had to take them in his to get them to stop. Since… it happened, Calliope hasn’t been out of my sight for more than a couple of hours. No overnights with Grace, no weekends with my father in Montesano. Last fall, Christian finally had a daycare built inside GEH with the thought that he’d earn some good will from his employees by providing free child care, while also being able to take Callie to work with him so I could write at home without any interruption. But she hasn’t been even one time. I can’t stand having her away from me. Ever. So there was no way I was going to get on that flight and leave her behind.

I fought. I argued. I did everything I could to get him to take me home. But, after nearly forty five minutes of back and forth, Christian managed to win me over. Not with promises of sun drenched beaches or exotic excursions through lush jungles and crystal clear seas, but with one transparently honest statement.

“Anastasia, I miss you.”

These past few months have been hard. I’ve tried to put what happened last August behind me, but I can’t. It is always in the back of my mind, and instead of getting better with time it seems to be getting worse. Sometimes I can hide it, sometimes I can’t. Because the fear that I felt that night changed me. I’m not the same girl I used to be. I’m jaded, paranoid, and I don’t trust anyone.

The best thing for me has been to keep myself occupied at all times. I spend every waking second buried in my novel or with my daughter. And between that, Christian’s international expansion with GEH, the election last fall, constantly checking in with Carrick to find out how his new chief of police appointment is going, and doing what I need to do to feel protected in the meantime, Christian and I have sort of… fallen out of sync. We don’t see each other enough, and when we do that time is usually dedicated to Calliope. Our sex life hasn’t suffered in terms of frequency, but it feels more mechanical than passionate. The love is there, but we’re not connecting the way we used to. This week is about fixing that, putting everything aside and thinking about nothing but each other.

This is going to be good for us.

This is going to be the honeymoon we never had.

This is going to be fun.

Except, I can’t stop obsessing over Calliope being alone in Seattle, without me to watch over and protect her. I can’t stop thinking about what could be happening while we’re away.

Just enjoy the sun, Anastasia.

After taking a deep breath, I stretch out on the sun lounger and close my eyes, thinking I might just let the sound of the waves lull me off to sleep. Christian didn’t exactly give me ample opportunity to rest last night after all. But, just as I start to doze off, I hear a high squeaking sound and the sun disappears.

“Why?” I complain, peeking out of the corner of my eye to see that Christian has re-adjusted the sun umbrella behind us so that I’m shielded by its shadow.  

“I don’t want you to burn.” He leans over me and starts kissing my neck. “I’ve spent the last hour thinking of several exciting things I plan on doing to you tonight and a sunburn doesn’t mesh well with what I’ve planned.”

I try, but fail, to conceal the smile his erotic warning brings out of me. “The whole last hour, huh? Sounds like you don’t find the book I gave you very engaging.”

“After reading your work, very little is. Besides, how could you expect me to read when the view is so incredible?”

“Mmm, it is beautiful.”

“Yes.” His hand moves from the side of my face, down the curve of my neck, and through the curves of my cleavage. When he hits the fabric of my bikini top, he works his fingers underneath in search of my nipple, which he pinches tightly between his fingers. “Beautiful.”  

“Very brazen, Mr. Grey,” I say, but my admonishment only makes his grin wider.

“Oh, baby. You have no idea.” Using the hand still toying with my nipple, he pushes my bikini top to the side, and the moment my breast is exposed his mouth is on me. I hiss slightly from the scrape of his teeth, but the sting is quickly soothed away by the gentle caress of his lips and tongue. My eyes quickly move to the umbrella again, checking to make sure that we’re concealed from the other resort guests enjoying the sun this afternoon. We are, so I close my eyes and force myself to keep quiet while he works his magic, and he takes advantage. Soon, his hands are trailing down my stomach and beneath my bikini bottoms.

“Christian!”  I sit bolt upright, moving away from his fingers. “What are you doing?”

He gives me a devilish grin. “Making my wife come.”

There’s a hunger in his voice when he speaks the word come that makes me tighten with anticipation, but when he tries to move his hand back between my legs, I slap it away and cover my breast again.

“We are not having sex right now. We are on a public beach!”

He raises an eyebrow before slowly looking to his right at the miles of uninterrupted white sand stretching out away from us, then to his left at the clean white canvas of the umbrella that stands between us and the few people lying out in the sand or surfing the waves far enough away that we can barely make them out ourselves.

“I think we’re okay.”

“Until someone comes back around with drinks.”

“Anastasia, I finally, truly have you all to myself again. No one knows who we are, my family isn’t here, Calliope is in someone else’s very capable hands, we don’t have security hovering over us, and there aren’t any paparazzi hiding in the shadows to get a photo of us together. Right now, right here, I really couldn’t give a fuck what the other guests may or may not see.”

I bite down on my lip, nearly won over by the carnal, ravenous look in his eye, but it’s his fingers that really start to win me over. He gently drags the pad of his thumb over me, spreading the hint of my arousal that he awakened before up and around my clitoris. With one last nervous glance, I turn towards the resort to make sure no one is coming towards us with a drink tray, and when I find the long winding path leading down to the beach empty, I nod and surrender. His eyes flash with lust as I settle back into the lounger and he slides a finger inside of me, searching for the perfect place that is sure to make me unravel.

I start to pant in time with his fingers moving in and out of me, and, as my legs start to tremble, he moves down my body, drops his head between my legs, and devours me. I gasp, tangle my fingers in his windblown hair, and push against his insistent tongue and fingers. Between his talented mouth, the sound of his own satisfied groans being muffled between my thighs, and the arousing possibility of being caught, it takes no time at all before I’m teetering right on the edge.

“Oh, fuck!”

“Shh. Keep quiet, baby.”

“Fuck quiet. Fuck being caught. Make me come, Christian.”

He hums with pleasure before sliding a third finger inside of me, and it’s my undoing. I convulse around his fingers, trying desperately to keep myself from making enough noise that I’ll attract the other guests on the beach. I think he sees me struggling because he moves up to take my lips with his then, and kisses me deeply, continuing to move his fingers in time with each pulse radiating from deep inside of me. I can taste myself on his tongue and it drives me wild. My orgasm intensifies until I have to pull away form his hand or risk passing out.

“God, you’re sexy,” he whispers, his tongue brushing lightly against my bottom lip. I take a deep breath, trying to get a hold of myself, but that seems like a lost cause when he pulls his fingers up to his own lips and subtly slips them into his mouth. “Mmm. Perfection.”

“You’re incorrigible,” I laugh, pushing him off of me and straightening my bikini bottoms again. I stand to tilt the umbrella again so that we’re still shielded from the other beach goers, but not the sun. As the rays begin to warm my skin again, I dig the sunscreen out of the sand next to the lounger and apply it to my shoulders and legs. He waits, watching intently as I rub my hands over my body, so I pour a large dab into my palm and slap it onto his chest.

“Hey!” he exclaims, indignant. I laugh, then climb onto the lounger, straddling him, and slowly rub the lotion into his skin. He leans back, enjoying the feel of my hands all over him, but when I lean over to kiss him he pushes back on my hips and stares up at me adoringly.

“Let’s go for a swim.”

“Now? Don’t want some kind of… reciprocation?”

He smiles. “Oh, I have plenty of ideas for that, Mrs. Grey. But they’ll have to wait for later. Now, come.”

“But I just did.” I grin, overly pleased with myself, and he shakes his head with mirth before rolling off the lounger, grabbing ahold of my arm, and lifting me up over his shoulder like a potato sack.

“Hey!”

“We could’ve done this the easy way, Anastasia, but you chose the hard way.”

“That’s because I like it hard.”

He laughs, then charges into the surf before dumping into the shallow waves and diving in after me.

 

Our time in the Maldives is amazing, and soon my preoccupation with the what ifs back home melt away so that I can enjoy every second of my alone time with Christian. I was fully prepared to spend all five days just lounging on the beach and relaxing, but Christian has packed each of our days here with seemingly unlimited activities and excursions. We snorkel over the expansive coral reefs and swim with sharks. We visit museums and exotic restaurants, where we both get to discover new favorite foods together. Christian tries to teach me to surf one afternoon, but that goes just about as well as the time he tried to teach me to ski, so we abandon that fairly quickly and decide instead to explore the local markets where we buy enough souvenirs for Calliope that it becomes necessary to purchase a whole new suitcase for the flight home. When we’re not treking all over the island, we enjoy bottomless cocktails on the beach or get couples massages at the resort.

And we make love.

Constantly.

Over every inch of our private water villa. In the sauna at the spa. In the coat check closet at the restaurant in the resort. Even once in the back of a taxi. It’s like we’re nineteen again and as the week ticks past and I feel our bond strengthening more than I think it ever has before, I realize that I’ve really missed him too. It makes the prospect of our final night here bittersweet, but as I get ready for dinner that night, he tells me that he’s saved the best for last.

At sunset, we head to the main beach outside the resort. The sun sinks low in the sky, creating an amazingly colorful sunset that is breathtaking and unbelievably romantic. There’s a feast taking place tonight, which is meant to give the guests a taste of Dhivehi culture, but despite the music, dancing, and the delicious looking food, Christian seems more occupied studying the darker, more private paths that lead away from the party than enjoying the festivities.

“Will you stop it,” I giggle, elbowing him in the side. He turns and looks down at me, but he fails to evoke innocence with his smile.

“What?”

“I know what you’re thinking. You’re not being very subtle.” I take a drink of the fruity cocktail in my hand and his eyes glimmer.

“I’m just thinking of you, baby. This party is going to go all night and there’s a lot of alcohol being poured. Whenever tequila is involved, I know I have to have a back up plan to get you alone.”

I laugh, then nearly stumble as he wraps an arm around my waist and pulls me into him so that he can kiss me. Again, it strikes me how liberating it feels to be openly affectionate with him and not have to worry about who’s watching or if there will be a picture of us splashed across some trashy gossip site the next day. We don’t even have to worry about making Taylor uncomfortable. It’s just the two of us. He’s not Mr. Grey, CEO, and I’m not Anastasia Steele, New York Times Best Selling Author. We’re just two anonymous people in love, and it’s everything I could want and more.

The hostess seats us at a small table covered in a crisp white table cloth with a candle burning low in the middle of a small floral centerpiece. When they bring food around to our table, Christian takes it upon himself to feed me, but only so that he can pull the fork away from me at the last second to keep me from actually being able to take a bite. The dancers come around and perform their traditional Dhivehi dance right before our table, and Christian takes my hand in his as we both enjoy their performance.

Finally, when the festivities die down and Christian and I are dizzy from the alcohol, he gets up from the table and holds his hand out for mine.

“No, I’m not ready to go to bed yet,” I complain.

He smiles and shakes his head. “We’re not. Come, I want to show you something.”

I glance down at his groin, then back up to his eyes. “I’ve seen it.”

“Not nearly enough.” He rolls his eyes and I laugh, but he leans over and takes my hand anyway. “Trust me, you don’t want to miss this.”

Placing my napkin on the table, I get out of my seat and, after we’ve thanked our hosts profusely for a magnificent evening, I follow him from the tented area out to the beach. Everything in the distance is hidden in the pitch black because the lights from the resort are so bright that they obscure the natural glow of the moon and stars. The sand beneath our feet is still warm from the constant rays of the sun throughout the day and I can hear the tide coming in, but I can’t see where the waves wash over the shore. It’s almost a little nerve racking, walking towards the ocean without being able to see where it starts. Eventually though, my eyes adjust and the light begins to illuminate the foam in the water, rather than conceal it. When the sand beneath our feet becomes wet and packed, Christian stops and turns to face me.

“Here we are.”

I frown, then look up the beach to my right, then to my left. All I can see is the dark shape of the water washing up over the empty beach before pulling away again.

“It’s… beautiful?” I say, turning back to him with confusion.

He smiles. “Look down.”

I do as he says and notice, as I move my feet, that’s there’s something blue in the wet sand. Not something solid, like an object, more like a pale light.

“What is that?”

“It’s called bioluminescence. It comes from a kind of plankton that floats between the islands here. It’s hard to make out properly with all this light, but it’s one of the great wonders of the world.”

“Too much light, huh?” I bite down on my lip and give Christian a mischievous smile before leaning up on my tiptoes to kiss him on the cheek and taking off down the beach, away from the resort.  He calls my name before chasing after me, following my illuminated footsteps until we come around a bend that frames the jungle and I stop dead in my tracks.

From here, the trees block the unnatural light coming from the resort and, in the darkness, the ocean seems to glow. It’s not just in the sand, it’s in the water, and as the tide rolls over the beach, it looks like we’ve stepped into some kind of fairy tale. The waves aren’t just neon blue, they sparkle, like the kind of magic you would see animated in a Disney film.

“Christian,” I breathe in astonishment. He smiles and takes my hand again, then pulls me down the beach to get a closer look. There’s an almost surreal quality to the waves as they wash over our feet. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen and as I stare out into the water, wondering how far this amazing phenomenon goes, I get an idea. I pull back on Christian’s hand so that he stops, then reach for the ties around my neck, unravel them, and let my sarong fall into the surf.

Christian raises an eyebrow at me, then takes a step closer, but I quickly turn away from him before he can take me into his arms and dart into the ocean, diving into the water the moment it becomes too deep for me to continue running. It feels much colder than it did during the day, but I don’t care. Every time I move my arms through the water the glow appears, surrounding me in a pool of bright blue light.

Christian is just as enthralled as I am. We swim together, diving under the waves as they come crashing towards us and chasing each other through the brief moments of calm in between. Eventually though, the cold becomes too much in conjunction with the rapidly cooling night air and we have to get out of the water. But as I move up the beach to collect my discarded dress, Christian grabs ahold of me and spins me into his arms. He holds me there, for a long moment. Not moving. Not speaking. Just staring deeply into my eyes, as though he’s reading his favorite novel for the millionth time, but still finding something new. Then, he takes my hand in his and, with no music, we start to dance.

He sweeps me through the sand to nothing more than the steady rhythm of the tide and as I spin into his body, he slowly dips me down until I’m relying only on his strength to keep me upright. With me fully at his mercy, he takes my lips with his. I moan and reach up to wrap my arms around his neck to pull myself as tightly against him as I can. He deepens the kiss, forcing my all too willing lips open. Slowly, we sink down until my back is pressed into the wet sand and he’s hovering over me. His hands move to my hair and the kiss turns into something more wild, more passionate. Heat floods through me, and I’m just about to reach down below the band of his swim trunks when a wave of water, higher than its predecessors, crashes into us and sends him toppling off of me, while nearly drowning me in the process.

“Shit!” Christian exclaims, scrambling back to me on his hands and knees. “Ana, are you okay?”

I cough, feeling the burn of the salt water as it moves through my sinuses. “Yeah. But that is not as romantic as they make it look in the movies.”

He laughs, hard enough that he falls into the sand at my side, and as we devolve into hysterics together, another wave comes rushing at us.

“No! No! No!” I scream, turning and clumsily scurrying higher up the beach to get away from the tide. I scoop up my dress, shake out the wet sand, and turn to face the man I love. He cradles my face in the palm of his hands, sending a wave of warm comfort and reassurance through me, then gently kisses my lips.

“Let’s get you cleaned up,” he whispers, then, unexpectedly, reaches down to scoop me up into his arms. I shriek with surprise, and then giggle again before holding tightly to him and resting my head on his shoulder.

Back at the bungalow, he carries me into the bathroom and then turns on the shower. Though it’s a warm night, the breeze coming off the water through our open windows carries a chill and, without Christian pressed against me, I feel cold. Goosebumps pop up on my arms and legs and the chill only seems to grow more intense when Christian turns back to me and untangles the knots holding my bikini in place.

“Cold?” he asks, reaching around me and taking my exposed breasts into his strong hands. My hardened nipples peak through the gaps between his fingers.

“A little.”

“Then get in. I’ll be right behind you.” He softly kisses my shoulder before nudging me forward, and I’m so eager to get beneath the steaming cascade of water that I don’t even ask why he’s not following after me. I step into the shower and close the frosted glass door behind me, letting the hot water wash away the caked sand and the chill that clings to my skin. I don’t even reach for the shampoo or body wash. I simply close my eyes and let myself enjoy the feeling of the heat on my face.

That is, until the door opens behind me.

“Better?” Christian asks. I can only make a low, contented noise in response, and he lets out a single, breathy chuckle before pressing his naked chest into my back and leaning forward so that his lips brush lightly against my ear. “Don’t turn around.”

His hands move, but not to touch my body. Instead, he picks up the bottle of shampoo from the tile ledge, takes what he needs, then begins to work the fragrant liquid into my hair. The hot water feels as though it’s already melted away the tension in my body from being cold and nearly drowning back on the beach, but the feeling of Christian massaging my scalp somehow makes me relax even further. My legs practically turn to jelly beneath his expert touch, and I have to lean against him to keep them from buckling from under me.  

“Alright,” he says at last. “Rinse.”

I do, and since I have to turn to face him to wash the suds from my hair, I fully expect him to take advantage of my busy hands and closed eyes to explore my body. But he doesn’t. He simply picks up the sea sponge next to the body wash and begins to clean away the sand from my skin. It’s enticing, feeling the gentle caress of the sponge passing over my breasts and down and around my body. He’s meticulous, working slow to draw out my agony as I wait for him to really touch me, but he makes it all the way down to my toes without so much as letting his hand slip to any one of my most sensitive erogenous zones.

“That feels nice,” I whisper. He smiles and leans forward to kiss my inner thigh, then stands and slowly drags a single finger up the length of my leg until he finally touches me where I crave him most. I moan and push into him, wrapping my arms around his neck so I can pull his lips down to mine, but he stops me.

“Not yet, my love. I need washing too.”

My eyes pop open and a playful smile tugs at the corners of my mouth. “Well, then… hand it over.”

He places the sponge in my outstretched hand and, after adding more soap, I step aside to let him stand beneath the water. He wasn’t lying in the sand the way I was on the beach, so he’s not as dirty, but that doesn’t mean I’m any less fastidious in the way I wash him. Leaving a trail of suds  behind, I use the sponge to explore every inch of his amazing body. Every curve and line of every muscle, even the scar from the surgery after they removed his kidney last fall. The soft sounds he makes as I work my way down his body only feed my ever growing need for him, until I finish washing his feet and find myself on my knees before him.

I glance up and raise an eyebrow. “Smooth.”

He smiles, then brushes his hand past my ear, into my wet hair, and gently pulls me forward. I take him hungrily into my mouth, and roll my tongue around the head of his quickly hardening erection. Again, he moans and pushes his hips forward, encouraging me, telling me how good my mouth feels around him with every sudden intake of breath or tightening of his fingers in my hair. I reach up and press both of my palms against his well defined abs, digging my fingers into him every time he tests the limit at the back of my throat with his cock, and relishing in the soft, desperate way he says my name. I only wish that the water trickling off his body down onto me didn’t keep me from looking up at his beautiful face so that I could see just how much he loves this.

I can tell when he’s close by the way the tip of his erection tightens in my mouth and his legs start to shake. He braces himself against the shower wall, and I think he’s going to come in my mouth, but right at the last second, he pulls back and yanks me off the shower floor. The next thing I know, my back is pressed into the tile and he’s consuming me. His body pins mine to the wall, his hands pull my legs up around his waist so that his erection is pressing against me, and his mouth takes mine with an eager kind of fervor that makes me feel his kiss in the deepest, darkest parts of me.

“You’re so hot,” he breathes into my mouth, panting as I cling to him with my body and curl my fingers tightly into to the roots of his hair. “God, I want you.”

“Then take me. Make love to me, Christian.”

With one powerful thrust, he’s inside of me. My head drops back as I let out a pleasure filled gasp and my breasts press firmly into his chest. He leans over, and takes one of my nipples into his mouth as he starts to move and suddenly, it’s not the heat from the shower that makes me feel as though fire is crawling uninhibited across my skin.

It’s him.

It’s us.

“Fuck, you feel… oh, god. Ana!”

I lock my ankles around him, pushing him further into me so that I can take him as deep as possible. My fingers slip from his hair and drag down his back, making him groan and thrust into me harder and faster. It’s not long before he has me panting his name over and over again.

“Yes, like that. Please, Christian. Harder. Harder. Harder….”

He shifts so that he’s holding me with only one hand and the pressure of his body pinning me to the shower wall. With his free hand, he reaches down between my legs and finds my clit, only a few precious centimeters above the place he relentlessly moves in and out of me. It makes everything inside of me tighten, and when he groans at the feeling of my insides gripping his cock like a velvet vice, he leans into me again and presses his lips against the curve of my neck.

“I’m going to come, Ana. You’re going to make me come.”

It’s all I need.

I scream as the dam bursts and sends wave upon wave of pleasure throughout every inch of my body. I feel it surge and crash and surge and crash again until finally, he cries out my name and I feel the faint ripple that tells me he’s found his own release.

As the intensity fades away, I’m left with the after tremors of my orgasm while I try desperately to catch my breath. Christian’s face is buried in the conjunction of my neck and my shoulder and he starts to kiss me there until we’ve both recovered  enough that I can untangle myself from him and let him ease me out of his arms.

“I love you,” he tells me, and I let out a small, satisfied moan before leaning forward to softly kiss his lips.

“And I am utterly and completely in love with you.”

He smiles, looking relaxed and happy, then brushes the stray hairs that are matted to my face with water away. “Don’t take too long drying off. The bed’s too big without you.”

“I won’t,” I promise, and he kisses my forehead before pulling away and stepping out of the shower.

After cleaning away the remnants of our lovemaking, I turn off the water and reach for one of the fluffy, oversized towels to wrap myself in. There’s a hair dryer under the sink that I use to finish my hair, then I take a quick peak in the mirror to admire my new tan before heading off for the bedroom to join my husband.

He’s already in bed, once again reading the book I recommended to him last week, but when he sees me, he closes it, puts it on his bedside table, and pulls back the covers for me. I smile and leap into bed next to him, immediately cuddling into his side and reveling in the feeling of his strong arms wrapping around me.

“Tired?” he asks. My response is cut off with a yawn, so he chuckles slightly, then reaches over to turn off his lamp. We both sink down deeper into the bed, pulling the covers up over us and cuddling close together. It’s nirvana after a long day, and there, in his arms, I gently drift off to sleep.

That is, until I hear distant sound of a baby crying.

I’ve become so accustomed to being woken in the night by the sound of Calliope’s cries through the baby monitor, that at first it doesn’t even phase me. Not until I rub the sleep from my eyes and remember that I’m in not in my bedroom or even in my own house. I’m in an overwater bungalow nearly 9,000 miles away from her.  

I sit up straight, staring into the darkness with confusion. It’s quiet again, so I figure at first that I was just imagining things. But as I lie back into my pillow, I hear the cry again.

“Calliope?” The cry grows louder, so I turn to Christian in the bed next to me and try to shake him awake. He moans softly, but simply rolls over and drifts off again. I bite down on my lip as the wail becomes more insistent, then climb out of bed to investigate. It’s dark, so once I’m out of the bedroom I have to fumble along the wall to find a lightswitch. The outdated wiring means the electricity crackles for half a second before the light turns on, and, as the sitting room comes into view and I find the source of the noise, I have to hold back my scream.

“Gia?”

She turns a sharp glare up at me that makes me tremble. “Shh, you’re upsetting the baby, Anastasia.”

“Give her to me,” I breathe, taking a tentative step forward with my arms outstretched. “Gia, please. Give her to me.”

“Oh no, Ana.” She smiles, but there’s no warmth in it. “You’ve already lost her.”

“Wha-” The word cuts off as someone grabs me from behind and silences my responding scream with a gloved hand. I flail, trying to break free of the strong arms that snake around me, but it’s no use. Whoever has a hold of me tries to shush me, and while I can’t see his face or any other kind of identifier, I recognize his scent immediately. It makes bile rise up into my throat.

“You think it would be that simple to get away from me, Anastasia?” Linc whispers into my ear. “I told you I wouldn’t stop until I had what I wanted. You.”

His hands start groping my body while I continue to fight against him, thrashing violently in his arms until his hand slips from my mouth just enough that I can scream.

“Christian! Help me!”

“Shut the fuck up, Anastasia.”

“No! Help! Please!”

“Shut up, Anastasia!”

“No, get off me! Let me go!”

“Anastasia!”

My eyes spring open as Christian starts physically shaking me awake. He’s straddling me, one hand on each shoulder, and my first reaction is push him away. To fight his hold on me, just like I fought Lincoln. The first time this happened, I’d been so panicked that I hadn’t realized it was him when I woke and I’d given him a black eye trying to get away. But he’s done this enough now that he knows exactly how to hold me so that I’m forced to lie still until I realize where I am, what’s happened, and I’ve calmed down.

“You were dreaming, Ana,” he says softly. “It’s me. You’re safe. It was just a nightmare. You’re safe, baby.”

“Calliope,” I gasp, tears leaking from the corner of my eyes. “She has Calliope. We have to call, give me my phone…”

“No one has Calliope, Ana. She’s safe at home.”

I shake my head. “No, I saw her. She had our baby in her arms. She said I’d already lost her. Christian, we have to call. Taylor can save her. Taylor can get to her. Give me my phone!”

“Ana, look at me. No one has Calliope. No one is coming for you. No one is coming for any of us. Linc is gone. It’s over. You are safe. Calliope is safe.”

My chest heaves as I stare into his reassuring eyes until the fear slowly recedes from my body and I’m able to catch my breath. The adrenaline rush dies as quickly as it came and my natural reaction to the crash is to tremble and cry, but I fight it. The nightmares don’t come as often as they used to, but they happen often enough to make Christian worry and I don’t want that. I don’t want to go back to those first few months where everyone in my life treated me like some kind of breakable china doll. I’m not. And so I hold back my tears and force my body to stop shaking.

“I’m okay,” I tell him, moving slightly so that he’ll loosen his grip on my arms.

“You’re sure?”

“Yeah.” I nod, letting out a long, soothing breath, and he pulls his hands away from me. As he moves back into the bed next to me again, he pulls me tightly against his body and places three soft kisses on my naked shoulder.

“I really thought bringing you here would help.”

“It did. I mean… Christian, I’m fine.”

“Really? You call this fine?”

“It was just a bad dream.”

“A bad dream that you’ve been having at least three nights a week for months.” I press my lips together, unable to respond to him. He tightens his hold around me and buries his face into my hair. “I’m not going to argue with you about this anymore, Anastasia. When we get home, you’re going to therapy.”

“Christian… I don’t need therapy. I go with you every week and it clearly hasn’t done anything.”

“Because you don’t talk!”

“But I listen.” I turn in his arms so I can look at him. “I listen to you, I listen to Flynn… The only person not being heard is me. I’m fine, okay? I just… I need some time.”

He exhales sharply, the same tortured look he gets every time we talk about this clouding his eyes. Usually, this is where he drops it, but tonight I’m not sure he will. So reach up to place each of my hands on either side of his face, brushing my thumbs over the curves just below his eyes, then slowly lean in to kiss him. He doesn’t rebuke me, but his responding kiss is tentative, and when I pull away he doesn’t look anymore reassured.

“I love you, Christian.”

He sighs. “I love you too, Ana. I just wish you’d let me help you.”

“You do. More than you know.” I kiss him one last time then nestle down into the space under his shoulder. His fingers move in my hair, sending tingling shivers down my spine, and as I finally start to drift off to sleep again, his lips press gently into my forehead and I hear him whisper that he loves me once more.

Next Chapter

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