Chapter 04

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It’s slightly unnerving how little Dr. Flynn’s office has changed in the last two years. The books on his bookshelf are in the exact same order as they were the last time I had regular session with him, and the same faces look down on me from the picture frames on the walls. Even the decorative design on the kleenex box sitting on the coffee table between us is the same. It makes me feel like I’m right back where I was that summer before my senior year, talking about Elena Lincoln over and over and over again, and I don’t like it. Not even because I hate thinking about the way things were between Christian and I back then and how hard it was going through that time in our lives, but because, now, I’d give anything for that to be the reason I was sitting on this couch again. The reason I’m back, the reason Flynn is currently sitting across from me and staring at me with that patient, understanding look, is a hundred times more difficult to deal with than something as innocuous as Christian running a salon with a woman I despise.

Of course, Christian is late to our session. Again. He has been every Wednesday for the past three weeks and I’m starting to get suspicious that it’s not actually GEH that’s been keeping him. He’s been asking me to go to therapy for myself for months to no avail, so now he’s trying to force me into it. But I won’t let him. This session is for Christian. I’m here for Christian.

While Flynn sits across from me, waiting for me to start, I scroll through my email on my phone and do some online shopping for Calliope. I’m just submitting payment for the world’s smallest, most adorable Harvard sweatshirt when Flynn finally shifts in his chair and clears his throat to get my attention.

“You know, Ana, my time has already started.”

“I know, Christian is just caught up at work. I’m sorry.”

“You’re here. You and I could talk.” His tone is encouraging but careful, the way Christian’s is whenever he tries to bring up what happened or once again implores me to attend my weekly scheduled sessions in this office. It instantly has me on guard.

“What, are you two collaborating now?”

“Is that how you feel? That the people in your life are working against your best interests?”

I raise an eyebrow and cross my arms over my chest, sinking back into the couch and staring back at him defiantly. “No.”

“Christian tells me you’ve had some difficulty talking about what happened. He thinks that you’re struggling more than you’re willing to admit, but everytime he suggests you seek help you shut down.”

“I don’t shut down, I just don’t need therapy. I’m fine.”

“I don’t think your husband agrees with you.”

“That’s because my husband has a pathological need to fix things and he’s been looking at me for months like I’m this broken thing that just needs to be put back together. But I’m not. I’m fine. He only wants me here because he’s been in therapy since he was four years old, so it’s his knee jerk reaction for every problem.”

“I don’t think that’s true. I believe it was you who pushed him to come see me in the beginning. In fact, in our early sessions, he made it clear to me that the only reason he sat in that chair was because you made it an ultimatum for your relationship. Clearly, you thought it was helpful then, so what makes it different now?”  

“Because we’re not talking about Christian, we’re talking about me. Therapy is only helpful to people who need it. I’m not one of those people.”

He nods. “Okay, tell me about that. Why do you think it was good for Christian and not for you?”

“Because Christian had a relationship with a woman who molested him and abused him for years and didn’t see anything wrong with it. He needed therapy to understand what she really did to him. I have no illusions about what Andrew Lincoln was. He was a sick, sadistic man who let a grudge he held against a nineteen year old drive him to murder. He was insane, and violent, and the world is a better place now that he’s gone. But he’s gone and I have come to terms with that. I don’t want to talk about him. I don’t want to think about him. I just need some time to feel what I need to feel about what happened to me and to my family without everyone around me trying to decide what is best for me and treating me like a china doll they all watched shatter across the floor and now are desperately trying to glue back together again.”

The longer I speak the more the emotions I spend all my time trying to suppress begin to bubble out of me, and the power-high I’ve been riding all afternoon vanishes the instant I let myself say Andrew Lincoln’s name aloud. My voice is higher than normal, my muscles are tight, and there’s a dry ache building the back of my throat that I know means I’m about to cry. I break eye contact with Flynn, take a deep breath to gain control of myself, and prepare what I’m going to say when he starts to argue with me. But he doesn’t. He nods.

“Okay.”

I look up, my brow furrowed in confusion. “What?”

“Okay. If you think you’re coping well on your own, I’m not in a position to tell you otherwise. Given what you’ve been through, I think time is a perfectly reasonable thing to ask of those you love. We don’t have to talk about Andrew Lincoln if you don’t want to.”

“Oh.” I let out a long, relieved breath. “Thank you. You’re the only person who’s said that to me.”

“You’re welcome, Anastasia. How’s your writing going?”

“My writing?”

He smiles. “I read your book. I thought it was fantastic. Isaiah’s journey to find hope after such a dark time was heartbreaking, and beautiful. I saw a lot of you in him, Anastasia, and a lot of what you shared with me here, in this very office. I think you worked through your feelings and your pain in a very meaningful and productive way. In fact, I can see now why it drove Christian’s realization so effectively. I hope it’s something you’re continuing. Have you started something new?”

“Yeah.” I nod.

“What’s it about?”

“It’s um… It’s a love story. I started it last summer, because I felt like I had spent so much time writing about the bad parts of my relationship with Christian that I wanted to change and write about everything that’s so wonderful. It was a good distraction over the last few months, focusing on the things I’m grateful for rather than the things I’m not.”

“Was? Is it finished?”

I press my lips together in hesitation. “Yes. And… no. I mean, I’m at the end but something about it feels wrong. I’ve read through it three times since I finished, trying to figure out what it is, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. I don’t know. But the story is about Christian, the way he loves me, and the way I love him, so I need it to be perfect. It’s not done until it’s perfect.”

“That seems like a tall order.”

“It is, but it’s my job.” I take a deep breath and shake my head. “I’ll figure it out. I just need… I don’t know.”

“Well, you used to work in publishing. If you weren’t writing this story, if you were a fiction editor, say, and one of your authors came to you with this problem, what advice would you give them?”

I stop and think about that. It’s not an angle I’ve considered before, but, surprisingly, it works.

“Distance helps,” I tell him.

He raises an eyebrow at me. “What do you mean?”

“Sometimes, when your stuck in the weeds like this, it helps to put the project away for a while. To find something else to work on, clear your head, and return with brand new perspective. Distance.”

“Okay, so how can you accomplish that? Do you have any other projects you could focus on for a while?”

“No, I’ve…” I stop, because a new thought stops me. I don’t have another project I can work on now, and I don’t want to step away from my novel for something unproductive or that isn’t meaningful enough to deserve my time. But if the idea is to completely occupy myself so that I can return to my writing with new, fresh perspective, there’s a new possibility that I didn’t give any credence before. Now, though…

“I got a job offer this afternoon,” I say.

“Oh?” Flynn looks intrigued, so I nod and sit up for the first time since I entered this session.

“Yeah. There’s a publishing house in Seattle that needs an overhaul. Their sales are dropping, they’re not signing as many new authors… I’ve been there before, with SIP. I know how to help them, I have the experience, and I have a unique perspective of both sides of the industry that would be difficult to find in another candidate.”

“That’s true,” Flynn agrees. “So, they reached out to you?”

“I had a conversation with the president of their New York office today before lunch, and he said they’d be very interested in interviewing me. He kind of implied that, if I wanted it, the job was mine.”

“Sounds like a perfect fit then.”

“But they’re competitors with Grey Publishing,” I argue. “Taking this job would mean that I’d be working against the best interest of my husband’s company.”

“Ah, that does complicate things.”

“Yeah. I couldn’t–”

“Am I interrupting?” Flynn and I both turn and see Christian poking his head through the door of the office. There’s a mixture of nerves and hope muddled together in his eyes as he glances between Flynn and I.

I smile. “No, not at all. Come in.”

He steps into Flynn’s office, closes the door behind him, and joins me on the couch. His hand wraps around mine and quickly raises my fingers so he can press his lips into each and every one of them. Once he’s finished, he pulls our conjoined hands into his lap and turns to face our therapist.

“What are we talking about?”

“My book,” I say quickly, before Flynn can speak. “He read Escape, and he was telling me what he thought.”

“Your book?” Christian repeats, a hint of disapproval beneath his flat tone. He looks back and forth between us before eventually dropping my hand from his and pinching the bridge of his nose in frustration. “I don’t understand why you’re fighting me on this, Ana.”

“I’m not fighting you on anything.”

“Yes! You are.”

“No, I’m not. Christian, I’m fi–”

“I swear to god, Ana. If you tell me you’re fine one more time.”

“But I am!”

“No, you’re not. Fine isn’t waking up screaming almost every night and fighting me off of you like you think I’m going to hurt you.”

“That’s…” I hesitate, at a loss for words. “I can’t control that, Christian. Don’t you think I want to?”

“But that’s what I’m telling you, Ana. You can’t control it because you’re not dealing with it. I know. This used to happen to me all the time and it didn’t stop until I admitted I needed help and worked through the problem.”

“This is different. We’re different, Christian.”

He shakes his head. “I wish I could show you how wrong you are about that, Ana.”

“Well, this might be an opportunity,” Flynn interrupts. “In my experience working with patients suffering from PTSD–”

“I don’t have PTSD,” I correct him, but he gives me the same doubtful look someone would give a child who was caught doing something wrong and tried to deny it anyway. It breaks my confidence a little, and, as I start to fidget uncomfortably, he continues.

“Like I said, in my experience working with patients suffering from PTSD, I’ve observed a pattern of isolation. Feeling stuck and obsessing internally over something that happened in the past can make a person feel alien, like there’s a separation between them and everyone around them that they just can’t get past and they’re living in a different world than everyone else. It’s why support groups are so useful. It helps with the isolation to know that someone can truly empathize with you. Christian, perhaps if you share your experience, it might make Ana more comfortable sharing hers.”

He stares back at Flynn, unblinking. “She knows my past.”

“She knows what happened, but she might not know your experience. You say that you see similarities between what she’s going through and what you’ve gone through in the past, take this opportunity to explain what you mean.”

He still doesn’t immediately say anything. Instead, he sits back in his chair and stares irritably at Flynn, chewing on the side of his index finger. Eventually though, he sits up again, takes a deep breath, and looks at me.

“It’s the dreams.”

I swallow the lump that grows in my throat when I see the pain in his eyes and reach out for his hand, but he moves it away. The rejection stings, but I don’t think it was really purposeful. He looks down at our hands for a long moment, blinks, then wraps his hand around mine and shifts his gaze back up to my eyes.

“I just want to help you, baby.”

“I know, and I appreciate that. But I don’t need you to save me, Christian. I’m fine, really.”

He shakes his head. “Alright. If it’ll make you see reason…” He pauses, looking as though he’s having trouble summoning the right words, then takes a deep breath and continues. “I don’t remember a lot about my life before Grace and Carrick. I don’t remember what my biological mother looked like or what she did with me if she was ever sober enough to pay attention to me. I don’t even know that times like that existed. But some things I remember perfectly because for years, I saw them every night in my dreams.”

“Your mother?” I check. He shakes his head.

“The scars on my chest… I remember how I got each and every one of them. I remember the first time so vividly that sometimes I can still smell the burning flesh under his cigarette. I remember his voice and the sound of his boots as he stomped around the house trying to find me. I can still feel the crack of his belt as he beat me over the side of my mother’s filthy couch. But she’s not there in any of the dreams. She’s not trying to protect me, she’s not trying to stop him…”

He’s not looking at me anymore. He’s staring off into space and I wonder if that’s because he sees it now just as clearly as he did in his dreams. Or as clearly as I can still see the slow creep of blood as it pooled around Gia’s lifeless body. That’s a common theme in my own nightmares, no one coming to save me. I can scream for Christian, I can beg for Luke to find me, but no one ever comes. When I picture Christian as a small child, dangling over the arm of a sofa while being held down with one strong hand and beat with the other, it’s only too easy for the faceless man he describes to morph into Lincoln. And then I’m there too.

“Most of the time,” Christian continues, “I’m at home alone, hungry and scared because it’s dark and I don’t know when my mother will get home. There was a place in the back of my closet I used hide. I liked it because I could see my bedroom door through the crack between the closet door and the wall, but there was enough junk in the closet to hide me from plain sight if anyone came in. It felt safe, comfortable, even though I was hungry. So hungry. Until I could hear the front door open, and, instead of hearing my mother fumbling around trying to get to her room, I heard his boots.”

“It’s okay, Christian,” I say, trying to stop him. The fear in his voice resonates with my own and makes my chest feel tight. I grip his hands tighter and shake my head. “It’s okay, I understand. It’s the same.”

He looks back over at me, and reaches up to brush his thumb across my lower lip to stop it from trembling.

“I’m a grown man,” he continues, “and that sound still terrifies me. It didn’t matter if it was getting closer or farther away, it terrified me. Because I knew, no matter what, he would find me eventually. He always found me, and when he did, he always hurt me. He liked it. I have seen the pleasure he took in my pain and in my fear reflected in his eyes a thousand times. The burn made me scream, and that was satisfying to him, but the belt… The belt he could draw out, savor each and every lash until I bled. I was four. There was no way I could get away from him or the belt, and when I tried he hit me harder. He liked it when I tried.”

A hot jolt of pain and disgust flashes through me like a bolt of lightning and, suddenly, I can smell Linc’s cologne on me again. Christian is sitting close enough to me that I can feel the heat of his breath wash over me when it speaks and it makes the thoughts of Lincoln pinning me to the floor and telling me all the vile things he planned to do to my body feel close, and too real. I couldn’t fight him either. He was so much stronger than me that even as I pushed and kicked to get away, he held me down beneath him as easily as if I laid perfectly still.

I can’t take it. My breath feels like it freezes inside my lungs and I start to shake.

“Stop,” I beg him. “Stop.”

He doesn’t. “I could feel it in my dreams, the pain of every lash. But that was never enough to wake me. Especially when I got older. What woke me every time was the feel of his hands on me…”

“Stop!” I jump to my feet and back away from the couch, holding my hands out in front of me protectively. “Stop, okay? I’m done. I want to go home.”

“Ana, this is what I’m trying to tell you,” Christian argues. “It doesn’t go away on its own. You have to deal with this or it’s just going to get worse. Believe me, I’ve lived through this.”

“I want to go home,” I say again.

“No. I’m not letting you run from this anymore.”

“Christian!”

“Alright, alright,” Flynn finally intervenes. “We’ve moved past productive space. Everyone take a breath and lets get back on track here.”

“No. I’m done. I want to go home.”

“Ana, I’m sorry…”  

“I want. To go. Home!” I snap, then turn and storm out of Flynn’s office. They both call out for me to come back, but I don’t. I push through the door into the lobby, find a chair, and sit there, shaking and trying not to cry, until Christian finally comes after me.

“I’m sorry, Ana,” he says, looking down at me with regret.

I shake my head. “No, you’re not.”

“Yeah, you’re right. I’m not. I meant to scare you. I want to break down your walls and make you open up to me.”

“Great.”

“Ana, I just… I know how hard this is and I know that what your doing now isn’t going to make it any easier. It only gets harder and I don’t want you to go through what I did. Please, baby…”

I meet his eyes with mine and I can feel him silently imploring me as we stare at one another. It’s difficult, because I know he’s in pain too, but I’m not strong enough to do what he’s asking of me. I used to be. Before, there wasn’t anything I wouldn’t do to stop Christian from looking the way he does right now. But I can’t anymore. That part of me is gone, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to get it back.

“I’m sorry that this is hard for you,” I whisper with shame. “But I want to go home.”

Christian takes a deep breath and his lips press together in a thin, angry line. “Fine. Let’s go then.”

He doesn’t say anything more as we walk to the car. He holds my hand and opens the door for me, but he doesn’t speak. When Taylor pulls out of the downtown parking garage, he pulls out his phone and immediately goes into his email.

I chew on the inside of my cheek, wondering if it’s better to try and work through the anger and resentment brewing between us now, in front of our security, or spend an evening playing nice and trying to act like everything is normal in front of our daughter and then get into a blowout right before bed. Neither sounds ideal.

“Mia’s birthday is this weekend,” he says, interrupting my silent struggle, but still not looking up at me.

“Yeah,” I reply. “Has your mom told you what we’re doing?”

“Well, we we’re going to do something big since she’s turning eighteen and we really haven’t done anything to celebrate her getting into Harvard, but Mia has asked for something small. A dinner with just the family.”

“Oh, okay.”

“I was thinking we could do it at our house. Mom and Dad are pretty much full time at the apartment downtown now, so we have the most space.”

“Our house? I don’t know… I have a thing this weekend.”

“A thing?”

“A writer’s summit. I’m doing a signing Saturday afternoon. I won’t be able to cook dinner.”

“That’s fine. Just decide what you want to do and I’ll take care of it.” His tone is still curt, and it makes every word he speaks feel like a chastisement.

“Okay. Mia likes Italian, right?” He nods, his eyes still focused on his phone. “Lasagna, then. Or maybe a soup? It’s been a little cold this past week.”

He doesn’t even react that time, much less suggest something else. His fingers move over the keyboard of his phone, and his eyes never leave the screen.

“I guess, we’ll need to find a gift, too,” I continue, trying to force him to at least look at me. “Something special since she’s eighteen.” I wait for a response, but, again, nothing. I bite my lip and start twisting my fingers together uncomfortably in my lap. “My dad bought me like a hundred dollars worth of lottery tickets when I turned eighteen and, I didn’t win anything, but it was fun. What do you think?”

“I think she’s going to have access to an $8 million trust fund in four years. Lottery tickets seem frivolous.”

“Well, everything’s frivolous when you have money. It’s not like there’s a single thing the world she actually needs. She purposely buys your dad the ugliest tie she can find for Father’s Day every year. That’s frivolous.”

“Fine. Get her lottery tickets, then. Whatever you want, it’s fine.”

“She’s your sister, you know her better.”

“Then I’ll take care of it.”

“Christian…”

“Hang on.” He lifts his phone to his ear and waits half a second before he launches into a long exposition of business speak with Ros. I wait a few minutes for him to finish, but it becomes clear very quickly that his conversation isn’t going to be brief. My heart sinks and I start to feel uncomfortable in a way that I really haven’t before. I know Christian is angry about me refusing therapy yet again, but normally when he’s angry he yells. Yelling I can deal with. This is worse. Much worse.

I turn and stare out the rain splattered window, thinking about the session we just went through. I can remember, from the first time we had counseling together, that Christian didn’t like the place it always left us in immediately afterwards, because I always left hurt and angry. Was this what it felt like for him? Did he feel like everything he was sure of before was suddenly slipping through his fingers? Or do I only feel this way because of the things I just listened to him say?

Because he was right when he said he understood. The fear he described feeling because of his nightmares is exactly how I feel when I’m trapped in mine. And the confusion between the dream and reality right when you wake up… Except that actually might be worse for him. When I wake up, when I’m first able to hold onto something real, the fear from my dreams vanishes as quickly as it came. I know that Andrew Lincoln is dead. I know that the terror he puts me through in unconsciousness will stay there and never come for me again. Christian doesn’t have that luxury. The man who tortured him is still out there, somewhere, and the only thing Christian has to protect himself from him is anonymity.

Christian Grey and anonymity.

It sounds like an oxymoron.

I wonder if he’s still afraid.

His words swirl through my head the rest of the drive home, becoming more and more real and threatening on every repetition. I can picture everything he said so clearly I can almost hear the stomp of the man’s boots on the floor, or smell the faint scent of whiskey and cigarettes wafting off of him. It makes me nauseous to think about Christian as a defenseless child being burned with the bright red cherry of a cigarette. It’s bad enough that, by the time we get home, I have to excuse myself for the restroom while he goes to relieve Kensie and get Calliope dinner.

I lock the door behind me when I step into the downstairs bathroom, then turn to stare at my reflection in the mirror. I look pale, clammy even, but I don’t throw up like I thought I would. Instead, I start to shake and tears pool in my eyes. My knees give out, I sink down onto the cool, tile floor, and I begin to cry.  There’s an image of Christian as child, huddled beneath his bed, praying to God that no one finds him, stuck in my mind. But as I try to shake it away, it changes and my whole body tenses as a gunshot rings in my ears and the memory of the man that I love staggering backwards and collapsing to the floor plays so clearly it’s like I’m watching it happen right in front of me all over again.

“No,” I whimper, reaching for my phone. “No, no, no.”

My fingers shake as I dial Luke’s number and I try the best I can to blink away the tears while I listen to my phone ring.

“Hey, how was therapy?” he answers.

“Luke…”

“Ana? Are you okay? What’s wrong?” His voice is urgent, scared, which makes him difficult to answer.

“Luke, I need to-to kno-w…”

“Ana, what happened? Are you hurt?”

“No, I’m fi-ine.” I take a breath to try and steady my voice. “I’m fine. Please tell me that you have contacts in Detroit.”

“Detroit? No, I don’t think so…”

I swallow again. “Correct that.”

“What? Ana, what’s wrong?”

“After Cambridge, our next target will be in Detroit. I need you to make contacts in Detroit so we can make that happen.”

“Why?”

“Can you do that, Luke? Or do I need to figure something else out?”

“No, I can do it. Of course I can do it. But… Ana, what’s going on?”

His reassurances calm me down enough that I can breathe without sobbing, and after a few, calming breaths, I can speak regularly. “Nothing. Just another name to add to the list.”

“Um, okay…”

“I’ve got to go, Luke. Let me know when you’re ready.”

“Ana-”

I hang up and let my head fall back against the door. I can’t go join my husband until I know I’m fully in control of myself again, so I wait. With my eyes closed, I sit there and let myself relax, just to see if the images of the beautiful copper haired little boy who looks like my husband will return. Thankfully, they don’t. Having a plan of action seems to have effectively soothed the fear of this threat just like our plan this afternoon soothed so many others. I get off the floor, wash the evidence of my tears from my face, and take a deep breath before opening the door and searching through the house for Christian and Calliope.

“Hey,” he says, looking up with concern when I enter the dining room. “You okay?”

“Yeah, of course I am. I just wanted to wash my makeup off.” I smile broadly and hold my hands out for my daughter. “Hey, munchkin! How was your day?”

“Dada,” she says, reaching out for me with her tiny fingers.

“No, baby,” Christian corrects her. “That’s Mama. Can you say mama?”

“Dada!” she repeats, more instantly this time. Christian looks up at me with regret, but I shake my head and pull Callie into me.

“It’s fine. Yes, Dada. Dada’s home, huh? Yeah.” She giggles as I kiss her all over her face, then lower her back down into her high chair. Christian, or possibly Gail, has already prepared her dinner so once I set her down. Christian scoops up another mouth full of mashed peas and swirls it around her mouth before she finally takes a bite.

“There’s salad in there,” he tells me. I turn to look at the kitchen and nod.

“Sounds great. Can I get you some too?”

“Yes, thank you.” He grins as Calliope leans forward in her chair, arms and fingers stretched out as far as they can go, and makes a series of small cackling sounds through her mouth full of peas. I laugh, feeling the last of the anxiety I was holding in my body melt away at the sounds my funny little girl makes, then turn to the kitchen to get dinner for myself and Christian.

His mood seems to improve as we eat. He laughs with Callie as he feeds her and when he looks over at me, I can see happiness glimmering in his eyes. He goes with me to give her a bath once dinner is finished and while I wash her, he takes everything she hands him (toys, bottles, handfuls of bubbles) and thanks her for each and every one of them. Once she’s washed, he wraps her in a towel and carries her off to the nursery while I clean the mess we’ve left behind. A few minutes later, I find her dressed and curled up in his arms in the rocking chair by the crib while he reads her favorite bedtime story out loud.

“Ung, Dada!”

“Yeah,” he says brightly, pointing at the page open in front of them. “That’s a bunny. Do you know what bunnies do?” She looks up at him with wide eyes and he scrunches his nose up several times until the tip of his nose is pressed into hers. She reaches up and grabs his cheeks with her fingers, then tries to contort her face the way her dad does. It’s adorable.

I laugh and Christian looks up at me standing in the doorway. The smile he gives me then is genuine and loving, and I can’t help but smile back. Closing the book, he sweeps Calliope up into his arms and lays her gently in her crib.

“I love you, baby girl,” he tells her as he winds up the mobile over her bed. I pick up the baby monitor, hook it on the rail by her head, and kiss both of her chubby, pink cheeks.

“I love you too.”

She yawns and blinks several times, so Christian and I both back slowly away from the crib, waiting for her to start crying. But she doesn’t. We turn out the light and ease the door almost closed without her putting up a fuss.

“I think we’ve done it,” I whisper to Christian. “I think we’ve officially gotten her to be okay with bedtime.”

“I think you’re right, Mrs. Grey.”

With a smile, I lean up on my toes and kiss him. His lips play softly against mine for a moment, but all too soon he pulls away and brushes my cheek with his thumb.

“I’ve got some things I need to take care of. I’ll be in my office if you need me.”

“Oh,” I reply, taken aback. “I-uh… okay.”

He kisses me softly one more time, then squeezes my hand and turns down the hall in the direction of his office. I stand there watching him go, feeling dumbfounded. I thought maybe he’d worked through his feelings from therapy on his own, but apparently not. Normally, I’d let him stew on his own for a while before I tried to talk to him, but I don’t like the way this feels between us right now. It’s different, standoffish, and it makes my scalp prickle. So, instead of leaving him be, I quickly come up with a contingency plan, then turn and make my way to our bedroom. There’s a new nighty in my lingerie drawer that I bought last week, and after freshening up in the bathroom for a moment, I slip into the smooth silk and lace, cover myself in a loose bathrobe, and head to his office.

He’s sitting at his desk on his laptop when I slip inside, and he doesn’t look up at me as I approach.

“What if you didn’t work tonight?”

“Can’t. Busy.”

“I thought we should talk…”

“Oh, now you want to talk?”

“Christian–”

“Look, Ana, I get it, okay? This isn’t easy for you to talk about and that’s fine. I know that you’re still scared, but that’s never going to change if you don’t face it. It’s going to get worse. Believe me, I’ve been through it. I know.”

I shake my head. “It’s not the same.”

“It is though.” He pulls my hand so that I move to stand between his knees and looks up at me, his gaze imploring. “It kills me to see you like this, baby. It kills me to see how it’s changed you. You’re not as open with me as you used to be, you’re not as warm or trusting. I love you so much, Anastasia, and every time I look into your eyes and see the walls that you’ve put up to try and hold yourself together…” He stops, shakes his head, then lifts my hands so he can kiss my fingers again. “Please, baby. Let me help you.”

“You do help me,” I reply, unable to conjure enough force behind my words to keep my voice from trembling. I pull his hands around my waste, then crawl into his lap so that my knees are tucked under each of his elbows. He leans into me, resting his forehead against my sternum, but I take his face in my palms and force him to look up at me.

“I know this has been difficult, and I know that you mean well, but I’m just not ready to talk about it yet. You need to give me some time.”

He shakes his head. “Everyday you get a little colder. A little more closed off. That’s not the girl I fell in love with. I’m afraid that if I give you anymore time I’m going to lose you completely.”

“I’m not going anywhere. I promise. I’m still your Ana. I’m always going to be your Ana. I love you, Christian. More than anything else in the world. And nothing will ever make me feel more whole than your love. No matter how dark it gets, no matter how much I feel like I’m drowning, you’re always there. Your love is like a life preserver. That’s how you help me.”

“It’s not enough.” He tries to look away, but I stop him.

“Just tell me one thing. Would you do anything to protect me?”

“Of course I would.”

Anything? Maybe even something you know you shouldn’t but that you know will make Calliope and me safer.”

“What do you mean?”

I bite my lip, choosing my next words carefully. “If there was a threat and you were worried about me and our daughter, would you do everything in your power to stop it, even if what you were doing was… not necessarily moral?”

He hesitates for a long moment, and then nods. “Yes. I would do whatever was necessary to keep you safe, no matter what it cost me.”

“Would you tell me.”

His mouth pops open, but he doesn’t reply. Almost as if he can’t force the words out because he knows that if he were to promise me he would, it would be a lie. I can see that in the conflict etched across his face, and it helps. It strengthens my resolve.

“It’s okay,” I tell him, then lean down and press my lips into his before he can speak. Not in the same, chaste way I’ve kissed him all night, but in a way filled with meaning and promise. My hands never move from the sides of his face as my tongue invades his mouth, and soon, with me writhing and grinding in his lap, his hands move up and start to pull away the robe tied around me.

“Tell me you love me,” I whisper.

“I love you.”

“Show me.”

“Oh, baby…” he breathes, the desire in his voice clear. I move away from his lips and work my way down his body, leaving a trail of kisses in my wake. He groans as I sink to the floor and pushes back his chair to give me room. I look up and hold his gaze as I start to unravel his belt and undo his fly. The gray looking back at me turns molten as I close my hands around his erection.

“Well look what we have here,” I say coyly, running the flat of my tongue up his entire length. His breath hisses between his teeth and he tilts his pelvis towards me, encouraging me. I gently kiss the tip, then pull away. “I’ll wait for your command, sir.”

He smiles, then tangles his fist in my hair. “Suck my cock.”

“Mmm.” My tongue dashes across my lips and I sit up on my knees and lean into his lap, keeping my lips wet and tight around him as I pull him all the way into the back of my throat. He shudders, and it makes my entire body feel hot and ready. Setting a pace that matches the thrust of his hips, I suck him over and over again. With every pass of my tongue over the tip of his erection, I moan as though tasting the steady bead of precum dripping out of him is like being fed a rare delicacy. His fervor increases with mine until he’s tense, panting, and growling with wild need each and every time he hits the back of my throat.

“That’s it, baby. Almost there.”

I groan with pleasure and tighten my lips around him, but, just as I think he’s about to explode, his phone vibrates loudly on his desk and I freeze.

“Fuck,” he hisses, reaching out to silence the call. I wait until he tosses his phone back on his desk before taking him back in my mouth, but I’ve only just begun when his phone starts buzzing again.

“Hold on, baby.” He picks up the phone, reads the name on the screen, and frowns. “It’s Ros…”

I can tell by the hesitation in his voice that he’s expecting this call, and that it’s important. So I nod and pull back, but he stops me from getting up. I raise an eyebrow at him while his conflicted gaze shifts between me and his phone, but after a second or two, his mouth sets in a firm line of determination.

“Be very quiet,” he warns me, then he guides my mouth back onto his erection and answers the call. “Ros? No, of course not. Did you hear back from Sullivan?”

I smile, feeling a rush of excitement at this new challenge. He thinks he’ll get through a business call with my mouth around his cock? We’ll see about that.

Making as little noise as possible, I set back to work. It doesn’t take long for me to get him right back to where he was just before Ros called, but surprisingly his voice remains smooth and even every time he responds to her. It’s hot. More so than I anticipated. As I massage him with my tongue and push him deep into the tightest parts of my throat, I’m reminded a little of the fantasy I shared with him forever ago. Any second, Ros may notice something is off. She could catch us. And the possibility of that has my blood nearly boiling.

“Right,” Christian croaks, the first sign of strain breaking through is voice. I take that as the best sign I’m going to get that he’s getting close and push myself into him as far as I can go, then swallow him over and over again.

“Hold on a second, Ros,” he says, then pulls the phone as far away as he can reach, tightens his free hand in the roots of my hair, and comes down the back of my throat. My entire body sings with pleasure as I feel his thighs convulse and tremble beneath my hands. When he’s finished I refuse to stop until he pulls me off of him. When he does, his eyes flame down at me with desire, and I bite down on my lip as he puts the phone back to his ear.

“That all sounds great,” he says, with as much control as he can muster. “Send me the details and I’ll look over them in the morning. I’ll have Andrea schedule a meeting for us in the afternoon to discuss. Excellent. I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Have a good night, Ros.”

He hangs up, tosses his phone back onto his desk, and then lifts me from the ground. I reach behind me to push his laptop out of the way while he moves me onto the desk in front of him, then lie back to enjoy the feel of his lips as he kisses up my thigh.

“You. Are. So. Fucking. Sexy. Ana,” he says, kissing me between each word.

I prop myself up on my elbows, and smile down at him. “I serve at your pleasure, Master.”

“You’re damn right you do,” he replies, then he dives face first between my legs. I fall back again, arching my back high off the desk and tightening my thighs around the sides of his head. And, as I writhe and pant under the expert way his tongue moves over me, I resolve to myself that I’ll never let Christian see me suffering over what happened again. From this moment on, I will be his Ana.

Only his Ana.

I just have to find a way to make that possible.

Next Chapter

 

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