Chapter 34

“Well…” Barney’s voice is nervous. He’s been watching me wearily for the last five minutes while I swipe through the barebones beta version of the application he’s designed. “What do you think?”

 Even at this early stage, the interaction with the interface is flawless. Everything is so intuitive, I don’t have to ask him for help navigating anything he’s got programmed even once.

“I think it’s exactly what I asked for,” I tell him, smiling.

He lets out a relieved breath. “That’s really good to hear. I’ve also added a few features you didn’t ask for, if you’ll let me demonstrate?”

I nod and pass him back the iPad we’re working on, but he pulls out a laptop instead. The rest of his presentation is much less engaging as most of what he shows me is code, rather than a usable feature on an app that comes with sound and animation. But, his ideas are ingenious. He’s added an algorithm within the app that can personalize recommendations for each user according to their download history, and a rating system that will push popular titles to the top of each collection.

“Is there any way we could break each collection down to be more specific?” I ask.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, this mostly sorts by genre, but there are all kinds of subcategories within each genre. Like, Nature . What if I’m looking for something specifically about bird watching, but the only thing I’m finding while I scroll through the library are books about sea life or temperate forests? Could we create a filter to narrow it down further?”

“I can do whatever you want,” he says. “It’s just about how much time you want to give me to manipulate the library data you send. Every criteria has to be set up to test every title I’m going to add. The more specific we get, the longer that’ll take to program.”

“And we don’t have that much time,” I sigh.

He shrugs. “It could be done in a post-release update. The individual data will be much easier to manipulate once the infrastructure is finished being programmed into the system.”

“But… I won’t have you after the launch. My contract with GEH was for the design of the application, not the administration.”

Barney furrows his brow. “Mr. Grey seemed to imply otherwise. He actually had all of my in-house projects reassigned so that I could make the Greenwich Library app my top and… only priority. He wouldn’t do that if I was going to be done after I’d designed it.”

That makes me fall back into my chair. Christian is going to do maintenance for me too? We hadn’t talked about that, and it’s not written in anything he’s signed. And why would he?

“I only gave him eighty grand.”

“And trust me, that’s a hell of a discount.” He laughs in a familiar way, like it’s a joke that’s been told several times. When I don’t join in, he shakes his head and leans forward across the table. “You really don’t get just how insane that man is over you, do you? The fight he and Bailey got in after she found out he agreed to do this app in the first place was so bad that I don’t think she’d be here if he hadn’t managed to pull off the fusion project. He was ‘sabotaging his own publishing company in the middle of a crisis.’ But he didn’t care. He’d move mountains for you. Literally. I think the man would figure out how to relocate Rainier if you said it was blocking your view.”

I smile, and reach out for the iPad again to distract from the elated flush that rushes to my cheeks. It’s useless though, because before I even wrap my fingers around the smooth edge, there’s a knock on the door and Luke pokes his head inside.

“Sorry to interrupt, but we’re going to be late unless we leave right now.”

I nod at him, then take a deep breath and turn a smile back on Barney. “Thank you so much for all of your hard work. This is so much more than I was realistically hoping for. You’re doing a phenomenal job.”

He beams. “Thanks, Mrs. Grey. Feel free to mention that to your husband.”

“I will,” I laugh. He slips his laptop and the iPad back into his briefcase, then shakes my hand and leaves. Luke helps me gather what’s left in the conference room and walks with me to dump it all in my office before we head out.

“I’ll be unavailable for the rest of the day, Abby,” I call to my assistant as we hurry past her desk.

“Have fun!” she shouts back. I wave, then Luke yanks me through the door.

In the elevator I slip a pair of gigantic sunglasses over my eyes, and instinctually move closer to Luke. By the time we reach the ground floor he’s nearly pressed up against me, and I don’t move until I feel the pressure of his hand on my lower back that tells me to.

“Keep your head down,” he instructs me. He pushes open the main doors of the building, and I’m hit with a sudden swell of shouting and cameras shuttering.

“Anastasia, what can we expect from your husband’s announcement tonight?”

“Will he put on a demonstration of his new fusion technology?”

“How did he do it?”

Luke roughly shoves an overzealous paparazzi who gets a little too close, and the guy stumbles backwards and falls into a bush. The flashes from the other cameras still pointed at me become more frenzied.

“Wait,” I say to Luke, pulling on his suit jacket to get him to stop. I look back at the fallen photographer. “Are you alright?”

He grins, lifts his camera, and starts clicking. I’m momentarily blinded by the flash, so I’m not entirely sure that it’s Luke who yanks me away and starts pushing me through the crowd. Thankfully, it is. But he has to struggle to keep an acceptable distance between me and the photographers all the way to the SUV in the parking garage.

“Get away from the fucking car!” he shouts, trying to clear a path so that he can put me in the passenger’s seat. There’s no movement ahead of us, so he slides his body around mine, keeping one hand wrapped around me and holding me tightly against his back while he pushes us forward. When he gets the car door open, I have to crawl under his arm to get inside.

Ever since Christian let it leak to the press that, actually, GEH had developed a technology that could generate unlimited energy without combustion or greenhouse emissions, the groveling has come from all angles. I’ve never seen a media narrative reverse so quickly. He’s gone from being a borderline scam artist who grifted his investors, his employees, and the tax payers of Seattle, to the undisputed, reigning king of the green tech industry whose brilliance and ingenuity will safeguard the future of the entire planet. All in the span of one news cycle. 

The paparazzi swarmed our gate the following morning and they haven’t left us alone since. Christian’s been on every local and national morning show, and requests for more appearances haven’t let up.

This is different from the other accomplishments he’s made throughout his career. It’s so much bigger, and that quasi-worship has transformed him from well known business tycoon, to bonafide celebrity overnight.

I even received a very large bouquet of flowers from Bill Fitchett, apologizing for his behavior at 44 on the night of our anniversary. He’d blamed his callous remarks on too much alcohol. Christian had blamed buying his last block of profitable apartment buildings out from under him as “too much not giving a fuck.”  

Once Luke is in the car with me, he lays on the horn and inches forward until they get the hint and make a space large enough for us to drive through. Then he punches the gas and we fly from the parking garage. Two cars follow us, and at every stop light, photographers jump out and rush our car to try and get more photos. Thankfully, Christian has had the glass tinted dark enough that we mostly stay concealed all the way to Laurelhurst.

“Who are they?” I ask when we pull up to my house and find two men I’ve never seen before manning the gate.

“They work in security at GEH. Taylor’s decided to start vetting them for your personal security team now that all this media stuff’s blown up. This photoshoot is a kind of test run for them. They’ve been specifically instructed not to interact with either you or Calliope while they’re here, so don’t be offended if they won’t talk to you.”

“How inviting.” I eye them speculatively as we inch forward, evaluating them as though I could tell whether or not they’d be a good addition to my security team just by looking at them. They do manage to keep the swarm far enough back that Luke can safely input the code to my gate, and then guide us into the driveway without any trouble. So I guess that’s something.

Although Kommer used to have a kind of death stare that was very effective at keeping paparazzi away too, and that stare ended up meaning something very different to me in the end.

Once the heavy metal bars slam closed and lock behind us, I let out the apprehensive breath that feels heavy in my chest. I never realize how much anxiety the constant barrage of flashes and strangers shouting causes me until I’m removed from the situation. It leaves me feeling tired and drained, but Luke seems to be having the opposite reaction.

“Ready?” he asks, much brighter now that we’re shut inside the garage and he doesn’t have to worry about shielding me from the paparazzi anymore. I roll my eyes, knowing there’s no ready for what we’re about to walk into, but climb out of the SUV and make my way inside anyway.

It’s chaos. Photographers, hair and makeup artists, wardrobe specialists, and countless crew members move in a panic through my entire downstairs. Several rooms have been sectioned off as photography sets. There are catering tables set up in the dining room, makeup vanities in Calliope’s playroom, and racks and racks of clothes in my office. When I drop off the things I’ve brought home with me from work on my desk, I glance at the rack with my name on it. There are so many designer outfits here, that if I didn’t know better, I’d think we were posing for Vogue instead of Forbes.

“Ah, she’s in here!” a woman calls behind me. She’s short, but the inky black hair she’s pulled up into a tight bun on top of her head, paired with her light gray power suit, gives her a definitive air of authority. I turn, smiling, and reach out a hand for her. She ignores the gesture, grabbing me by the wrist and dragging me into Calliope’s playroom instead.

“Start light,” she instructs the makeup artist once she’s sat me down in the chair, “and we’ll get heavier the closer we get to the cover shoot.”

“Yes, ma’am,” the makeup artist replies. She turns and picks up a cleansing cloth and as she starts sweeping it across my face, the woman in the power suit finally smiles down at me.

“Mrs. Grey, I’m Viola Carlson. I work for Forbes Magazine and I’ll be running the shoot this afternoon. Mr. Grey has requested that we make sure you have absolutely anything and everything you need, so is there something I can get for you?”

“Is Christian here?”

She frowns. “No, he’s running a little behind. But his assistant has assured us he’s on the way.”

I give her a tight smile that I hope conveys I don’t need anything more and a nod that’s meant to dismiss her. She picks up on my cues, turns around, and scurries away, yelling at a production assistant before she’s even out of the makeshift makeup studio.

Despite the pleasantness of her words, I have a strong feeling I’m very low on her list of priorities today.

“Your skin is fantastic,” the makeup artist says. “They’re not even going to have to airbrush you, I swear.”

“Thank you, uh…”

“Leisel.” I smile, then tilt my chin so that she can blend my foundation down my neck. I’ve only been in a chair like this a few times, but Leisel works faster than anyone I’ve ever had make me up before. I feel like I’ve barely started to relax when she makes the last, artful swipe of liquid eyeliner across my lid and takes a step back to appreciate her work.

Once she disappears, a man named Victor comes in and starts on my hair. I expect him to weave some kind of complicated updo on top of my head, but he takes out a flat iron and pulls it through my hair until it falls pin-straight over my shoulders. Mixed with the smoky eye and nude lip Leisel left me with, I look much more severe than I’m used to. Edgy. Like I’m trying to imitate a model in a high end fashion spread.

They take me into wardrobe next and a welcome sense of comfort washes over me when I see Christian standing in the center of the room, twisting in front of a long mirror to get a better look at the immaculately cut black suit they’ve dressed him in. Some of that comfort wanes, though, when I see the decently pretty redhead squatting down next to his leg, tugging on his inseam. When he catches sight of me though, he quickly shoos her away so he can move around her to me. I have to hold up a hand to stop him from sweeping me up into a deep kiss.

“Lipstick,” I warn him. He frowns, then lets out a disappointed sigh and kisses the top of my head instead.

“Mr. Grey?” Viola calls. I hadn’t noticed her standing in the corner. “Can we finish going over the concepts for today’s shoot?” She has a clipboard in her hand and she’s looking at Christian expectantly, like they’ve been interrupted.

“Fine,” Christian replies. He takes my hand and pulls me back to the stylists with him, shaking his head at the ties they offer and instructing them instead to get a very specific tie from his own collection upstairs. A new set of hands thrusts a white button down, a short, gray pencil skirt, and a pair of black thigh highs at me.

“For the shoot in your office, we’ll have you pose behind the desk,” Viola says. “Mrs. Grey will wear this and we’ll perch her up on the corner with some kind of prop. A pen and paper, maybe. Or a laptop.”

“Why would she have a pen and paper?” Christian asks.

“She could be taking a memo.”

“Like a secretary?” He sounds disgusted and Viola immediately starts shaking her head, stuttering over her words.

“No, it’s just uh… an illusion to the idea of the sexy secretary. I mean, look at her! Look at those legs. She absolutely wreaks sex appeal and we need to capitalize on that. She’ll look beautiful, I assure you. This is Forbes after all, not Penthouse.” 

Christian doesn’t look convinced. “Anastasia is the Editor-in-Chief of a bi-coastal publishing house and a New York Times best selling author. That is what makes her sexy. If you think I’m going to participate in a shoot where she’s treated like a prop, I have some very disappointing news for you. I don’t wear my wife like an accessory.”

“Oh, I didn’t mean… Of course not. We just… I… um…” Still stammering, Viola turns to the wardrobe specialist who had been practically groping Christian when I walked in. “Kiera, can we please find something else for Mrs. Grey? Something that makes a statement?”

“I thought he was supposed to be the focal point? Isn’t this all about that fusion thing…” Keira clarifies. Viola’s mouth opens, but it’s Christian who answers. 

“No, this shoot isn’t about me. It’s about us, as a power couple.” 

“Right,” Viola agrees, quickly. Keira lets out a frustrated sigh, grumbling about how all of her looks are ruined now as she turns back to the racks behind her.

I end up in a suit just like my husband, though mine is so pristinely white, I’m afraid to even lean against anything. Christian isn’t exactly thrilled that they’ve buttoned the jacket on me without a shirt underneath, leaving my cleavage on full display, but once he comes up, tugs on the lapels, and finds they’ve been taped down to my breasts so they won’t move, he doesn’t make me change.

They move the chair in front of Christian’s desk for me, and I’m supposed to lay down in it with my feet propped up on his desk. All while exuding confidence and power for the camera.

“Think Cleopatra,” the photographer tells me.

 It takes several minutes of coaching, so while they’re working on me, Christian excuses himself. Just as they’ve finally accepted that what I’m giving them is the best they’re going to get, he re-enters the room and places a copy of Escape against the pile of fake paper manuscripts that have been artfully strewn around me, displaying it prominently. Then he winks at me and settles down behind the desk.

“Alright, Mr. Grey,” the photographer calls. “Give me strong and dominant.” I snort and devolve into a short, but powerful fit of giggles and the photographer glares at me. “Mrs. Grey? Is there a problem?”

I quickly smooth out my face and shake my head. “No, sorry. I’m just nervous.”

“Then quiet on set.” He drones the words, making them pointed at me, and Christian glares at him.

“Perhaps you’d have an easier time if you didn’t bark at us like a cartoon character,” he snaps. “It’s ridiculous and it’s distracting.”

“Excuse me?” The photographer looks incensed, but Viola quickly sets in.

“Whatever you say, Mr. Grey.” She turns to her photographer and gives him a please-just-cooperate kind of look. “I think Mr. and Mrs. Grey would look much more natural without so much direction.”

“Fine,” he says sharply, then lifts his camera and starts to snap away.

I’m not sure what I’m doing, so I don’t move very much. It feels silly every time I actually try to pose the way the photographer wants me to or make a specific expression, so I focus on keeping my face as neutral and soft as possible.

“Good, good. That’s very sexy, Anastasia. Look right at me… like you’re gonna fuck the camera. Excellent. You’re going to have every man in America hard.” The photographer kneels to change the angle of the shot. Christian coughs and shoots a sharp look at Viola.

“Alright, let’s stop there,” she says, briskly. Christian bolts out of his seat and comes to me, pulling me up out of the chair and holding me against him as we move to look at the pictures. It doesn’t escape my notice that he positions himself between me and the photographer as we all crowd around the monitor.

“These are all great,” Viola says, sounding pleasantly surprised. “I like this one…”

“This one,” Christian says, pointing at a picture on the bottom left hand side of the monitor. “She looks gorgeous in that one.”

“Yes,” Viola agrees. “Then I think we’ve got it. Let’s get you in your next look.”

The photo shoot takes most of the afternoon. I’m dressed in a flowy, floral summer dress that shows off my arms and legs, then made to pose against the oak bookshelves in the living room. Christian takes a few solo shots with his Lamborghini, then we’re both dressed down in jeans and t-shirts and photographed barefoot in front of the fireplace on our veranda. They ask several times if we’ll let Calliope be in the picture with us, but after I go pale from the question, Christian makes it clear that it’s not even up for discussion. He does kiss me in the middle of a shot though, and that ends up being the photo Viola selects.

For the cover, we move into a formal great room that we’ve only ever been in on Christmas. There’s an honest to god throne sitting in the center of the rug, a lime green backdrop set behind it. I give Christian an incredulous sideways glance as they situate a crown on top of his perfectly coiffed locks.

“That’s a little much, don’t you think?”

“Our tagline for the article is ‘Christian and Anastasia Grey: American Royalty,’” Viola says, sweeping her hands as though she’s spelling the headline out in the air in front of us, then she gestures for the throne. “Mr. Grey, if you’ll take a seat.”

“One moment,” he says. He turns to the stylist that’s been haunting our footsteps, strips out of his tuxedo jacket, and rolls the sleeves of his shirt up to expose his forearms. I smile down at the blue letters emblazoned over his skin. They look brighter now that he’s fully healed.

He unravels his bow tie and lets it hang loose around his neck. Then he slowly lowers himself onto the red velvet seat of the gold plated chair. “That’s better.”

I’ll say.

With the top button of his shirt undone and those incredibly alluring arms on display, he looks like sex on legs.

Viola and the photographer exchange nervous looks, but they don’t say anything. They look too nervous to say anything, and that strikes me as odd. They’ve been tiptoeing around him all day, giving in to every demand he makes the moment he barks out the order. I get that Christian can be intimidating, but this is more than that. It’s like they’re terrified he might pull the plug at any minute. I just can’t figure out why they would care enough to put up with the deluge of commands.

Is it really this big of a deal to get him on their cover?

I move to sit on the armrest and lean back on Christian, resting my head on the back of the throne. It’s difficult to balance, mostly because the Balmain gown they’ve dressed me in constricts my movement, and the studded pattern that covers the entire dress looks powerful, but is uncomfortable to sit on.

“It’s missing something,” the photographer says after he snaps probably his tenth shot. “We need something to tie them together a little bit better, they’re too disconnected. Anastasia, can you lean towards him more?” I do, and he shakes his head. “No, that’s not it…”

“Here,” the stylist says. She races forward with the dark, charcoal jacket Christian stripped off and drapes it around my shoulders. Christian plucks the crown off the top of his head and places it gently over my hair. There’s no protest from Viola, so I lean back again and the photographer starts snapping photos.

“That looks amazing,” Viola says. “Christian, relax the face a little bit. Sit up straighter. Push the shoulders back, make that chest nice and broad… Perfect. Ugh, you two were made for the camera.”

“Mr. Grey?” Taylor pokes his head into the living room, and as both Christian and I turn in his direction, the camera flashes stop. “Your limousine for this evening has arrived.”

“Then we should be going,” Christian says. He gets up out of his chair and turns to nod toward the crew hovering in the back of the room. “Thank you for your time, everyone.”

“Wait!” Viola cries in panic. “The interview. We still have to do the interview!”

“Then I hope whoever will be conducting it wants to take a limo ride.” Christian turns to look at me, his eyes sweeping over the gown I’m wearing. “I’m just going to wear this to the event tonight, but you don’t look very comfortable.”

“I’m not,” I say quickly, trying to adjust the skin tight dress that’s nearly cutting off my ability to breathe. He nods his head.

“I’ll wait here if you want to change.”

With a grateful smile, and after giving him a swift kiss on the cheek, I dart upstairs. My makeup and hair are flawless from the shoot, so all I have to do is strip out of the Balmain, which, apparently, I get to keep. In its place, I choose an eggplant, Grecian style dress, made of silk, that falls just a few inches above my knees and is belted at my waist. It’s comfortable and a little flowy, which is a relief after a day of squeezing into one stiff outfit after another. I change my jewelry and spritz some perfume on my neck, then scurry back to the foyer.

Christian is waiting with the interviewer and our security team. I catch the tail end of his instructions to Taylor as I start down the stairs.

“… and we’ll be home around eleven.”

“I don’t think it’s a good idea for you two to go alone,” Luke chimes in. “The paparazzi were pretty aggressive this afternoon, it’ll be worse tonight and with you there.”

Christian brushes him off. “We’re not using the street entrance and there’s security at the venue. She’ll be by my side the entire night, and I assure you there is no safer place for her to be.” He stares at my bodyguard for half a second, then smirks. “You should take the night, Sawyer. I’ve been told you’re mending a broken heart. Tonight’s hotel can be on me.”

I watch the Adam’s apple in Luke’s throat bob as he swallows back whatever smartass remark I know is waiting on the tip of his tongue, but he just nods. 

Christian reaches his hand out for me, guiding me down the final two steps and leading me outside with the interviewer, who he doesn’t even address until we’re in the limo and we’ve pulled past the gate. Even then, he offers half-hearted answers while pouring me a glass of champagne or staring at me like all he wants in the world is for the man to disappear so he can ravage me.

As the questions become less and less about the two of us and more and more focused on his fusion project, Christian starts getting evasive. Somehow, he always manages to bring every answer back to me. 

He credits my support to the project’s completion, and he suggests the first time he truly saw the importance of putting together a highly competent team was when he hired me to turn around his newly purchased publishing company. That’s a lie, but it doesn’t really taint the sentiment behind it at all. When the interviewer asks what he’s looking forward to now that his device is functional and about to hit the market, Christian answers, “The Greenwich Library. I can’t wait to see just how far Anastasia is going to surpass everyone’s expectations.”

We’re pulling into the garage beneath Columbia Tower when I wrap up my final answer about the GSP subscription service, which will have launched by the time this article runs. Christian tosses a hasty thank you in the direction of the interviewer and steps out of the limo, pulling me with him. Andrea is there waiting for us, an iPad already in her hand. She gives him a quick rundown of the itinerary for tonight’s event and hands him a copy of his speech to take to the podium with him. He shakes his head at it and reaches for the button on the elevator. The doors slide open, revealing Ros is already inside. She perks up the moment she sees Christian.

“I was just coming to look for you. This event is going to be incredible, Christian. All the right people are here. The governor, your dad, every member of the city council…” She bites her lip, as if she’s holding back a big surprise. “Senator Blandino.”

“Ah, that must be why Olivia asked for a plus one,” he jokes.

I’m surprised by his indifferent response, like he couldn’t care less that the very man he needs to help him make the connections necessary for the kinds of contracts he’s chasing now has come to see his launch. Ros looks at him as though she’s worried he might be intoxicated, and if I hadn’t been with him all afternoon, I’d probably be wondering the same thing.

He only had one glass of champagne in the limo.

The elevator stops and we’re released into the same elegant lobby I’ve been paraded through countless times at events just like these. The same brown nosing people desperate for Chrisitan’s approval immediately flock to us and extend their hands in congratulations. Jaqueline once again stalks us into the ballroom, giving him the exact same speech about staying on message and speaking in sound bites. 

The only thing that’s different tonight is Christian, who suddenly doesn’t seem to care about any of that.

We don’t meander in the lobby and make small chat with the Seattle business elite. He doesn’t stop to schmooze with the city council members. In fact, the only person he stops for at all is his father, and once their conversation is interrupted by someone else, he excuses himself and pulls me straight for the table where our name placards are laid before beautiful, silver place settings

“How do you think the shoot went?” he asks, pulling out my chair and flagging down a waiter so he can order our drinks.

“Fine…” I glance over at Ros, who is standing alone with a group of men I don’t know. She’s staring daggers at Christian, desperately trying to get his attention, but his eyes are trained exclusively on me as he lowers himself into his own seat. “Don’t you think we should go socialize a little? I think Ros might be sending you an SOS.”

He shakes his head. “When I’m ready to speak to those gentlemen, they’ll come to me. Until then, I’d like to talk about how absolutely stunning you looked this afternoon.” He leans in close to me, his voice low and sensual. “I don’t know if I’ll ever stop being awestruck by your beauty, Anastasia.”

“Stop it,” I giggle, closing the gap between us. His eyes move down to my lips, and a smile starts to tug at the corners of his mouth. I’d guess he was about three seconds away from saying to hell with the suits all around us and started attacking my lips, but then the lights dim and the crowd starts to disperse for their seats. Ros slides in the chair next to us.

“That was the COO of Chrysler, Christian,” she says in a strained voice. “He wants to schedule a meeting with you.”

“Well, did you tell him how to get in touch with Andrea?”

“Of course I did.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

“It’s… It-I-you… uh…” She stutters, then presses her lips together angrily. Christian chuckles under his breath then turns his attention to the stage where Jaqueline is approaching the podium.

“Good evening, everyone,” she beams. “On behalf of Grey Enterprises Holdings, I hope you all enjoyed our cocktail hour and everyone has a drink… right?” She looks around the room as if to check, and gets a smattering of laughter from the audience. “We’re going to be serving dinner now, then we’ll hear from our COO, Ms. Rosaline Bailey about all of the exciting things GEH has been working on this year. And last, but most certainly not least, Mr. Christian Grey will come up here and…” she pauses for emphasis, “unveil the future of Grey Enterprises Holdings.”

This time, the applause is resounding. A small, gracious smile crosses Christian’s lips as he acknowledges the eyes that turn in his direction. Then he turns to the waiter approaching the table, and chooses each of the dinner options for us so we can share. The food is better than I expect, and the dinner as a whole is much more intimate.  No one even attempts to disturb us as we sit there passing prawns and bites of chicken back and forth, talking about things that are of absolutely no consequence to GEH. Though several anxious looks turn in our direction throughout the entire course of the meal.

“You’re not going to miss the Harvard/Yale game this year,” he says. “It’s the most important game of the season. Besides, Mia is going to be there.”

“But it’s in November,” I whine. “Last time I was in Cambridge in November, I got snowed in without any power or heat for days.”

A day,” he corrects me. “And that was a once in a century storm, baby. I think we’ll be okay.”

“But even if it doesn’t snow, Calliope won’t be able to stay out in the cold that long. It’s an outdoor stadium and that game went on for four hours last year.”

Fine,” he’s exasperated now. “Then we’ll go on a different weekend and Calliope’s first Harvard game will be against Princeton or Brown.”

I roll my eyes. “As if you could just replace the Yale game. If we beat them this year, it’ll be six years in a row. That needs to be Calliope’s first game, and if you think I’m going to miss a six year sweep, then you clearly don’t know me very well.”

“Okay, so we bundle Calliope up and bring Mackensie. She can take her back to the house when she starts getting too cold.”

I take a deep breath, then let it out in a long, hopeless sigh as I rest my elbow on the table and my cheek on my hand. “I don’t know, I’ll have to check the Seahawks schedule…”

He laughs, then shifts in his chair so that he can hold my hand and rest them both in my lap. It’s only then that I remember we’re on official GEH duty, in a room full of hundreds of very important people. And even then, I only notice because I realize Christian is shifting so he can look at the stage, where Ros is now standing beneath the spotlight, waiting for silence.

Her speech is short, as she’s mostly there to talk about all the other great successes GEH has enjoyed over the last year, and those were few and far between. She perks right up though when she gets to introduce Christian, which she does with such grandeur I almost expect them to start playing Hail to the Chief when he gets out of his chair. As he starts up the stairs, a crew of people sweep across the stage to remove the podium, and a gigantic backdrop begins unrolling from the ceiling. Christian accepts a hug from Ros, then takes a headset from a staff member and turns to face the audience.

The lights dim further, and since the whole room is done in black and silver, even the low glow still emanating from the lamps against the walls seem strangely dark. Then, in the center of the stage, a pink and blue light starts to swirl behind his silhouetted form. It’s surprisingly bright, considering it’s source seems so tiny. But it illuminates the entire room, making the silver ornaments in the center of the tables shimmer with flashes of azure and magenta.

“Ladies and Gentleman,” Christian says at last. “Endurance, by Grey Enterprises Holdings.”

He lifts his arms at his side and the screen behind him comes to life with a dynamic gray background, the word Endurance etched into the gray as if it were a carving in a slab of stone. There’s a stylized infinity symbol above the logo in a blue I recognize immediately, because I can see the same exact shade inscribed across his exposed forearm.

His presentation feels like an Apple unveiling. The speech he gives is technical, but stained through with the emotion of creating a cleaner planet and building a better future and creating a whole new realm of possibilities for the entire human race. The technology that is intermingled with his demonstration is so captivating that by the time he finally gets to the device still glowing on the pedestal behind him, the entire room is hanging on his every word.

Christian picks up a remote.

“Now if you’ll observe how…” he clicks a button and the light is extinguished. And not just the light from the device, all of the lights. Even the thin strip that shines beneath the main ballroom doors. The quiet, but the ever present buzz of electricity is suddenly completely devoid from the room.

“My apologies,” Christian’s no longer amplified voice says through the darkness. Then the light bursts back on, quickly becoming too bright. “Too far?” Christian asks. He holds up the remote, more deliberately this time, and shows that he’s controlling it as he returns the room to its normal state.

“This evening as we’ve enjoyed our drinks and the delicious food the staff has so beautifully served, the entirety of Columbia Tower has been powered by a device just like this one. A single, fusion core capable of providing 100% of the energy needed to power the largest skyscraper in Washington State, and our carbon footprint for the creation of that energy will be…”

He clicks the remote again and the screen behind him comes to life with a large, 0%.

There’s applause, even more raucous this time, then a Q&A session. The engineering and science departments of Washington University are both here and they take up a great deal of time hammering Christian with specifics that I’m surprised to find he can speak to as if he were an expert. The man Ros had said was here representing Chrysler has questions about Endurance’s capabilities, the flexibility of the technology, and exactly how long one device can continuously provide energy.

“Forever,” Christian answers, confidently. 

Another round of applause, then Christian ends the Q&A and exits the stage. I get up to meet him at the foot of the stairs, only to find myself caught up in a sudden onslaught of people clamoring to get their own second alone with him. He shakes hands with various CEOs, hands out his business card to several people looking to make a deal, and finally turns a charming smile on Senator Blandino.

“Ah yes, Senator,” he says jovially, reaching out to shake his hand. “It’s a pleasure to see you again. I don’t know if you remember, but your niece works in my office.”

“Yes. Olivia speaks very highly of you, Mr. Grey.”

“I’m glad to hear it. What can I do for you, Senator?”

“I sit on both the Senate Committee on Armed Services, and the Committee on Environment, Energy, and Technology. I think Grey Enterprises Holdings can be of great benefit to this country, Mr. Grey. I’d like to discuss with you exactly what that means.”

“Then we should set up a meeting,” he agrees.

“Excellent. I’ll probably bring a few other government officials along as the interest in the Endurance project is fairly far reaching. It might be prudent to discuss our future relationship over dinner, if you wouldn’t mind hosting.”

“Of course not. I’ll have my assistant get in touch with your office and we’ll make the arrangements.”

“Perfect. I look forward to speaking with you more, Mr. Grey.” The men shake hands, then Christian wraps his fingers around my arm, just above my elbow, and tugs me away from the others still circling around us like human vultures.

“Let’s get out of here,” he whispers in my ear. I furrow my brow at him.

“We can’t leave, this is your event.”

“And I’ve given my speech and talked to the Senator. I’ve accomplished everything I wanted to tonight, except getting you in the back of that limo and making you come all over me.”

I shiver, unable to respond as my mouth goes instantly dry. He smirks at me, reading the response of my body, and starts to pull me towards the doors again. Both Ros and Jacqueline try to intercept us on the way out, but he barrels past them like he doesn’t even see them.

“Hey!” I squeal as he tosses me into the back of the limo. He crawls in after me, slamming the door hard behind him, then hovering over my body. We kiss for a long, hot minute, then he reaches up for the button on the intercom and instructs the driver behind the privacy screen to take us home. The car moves, Christian grins, and his hands get busy.

“Oh my god! Christian!” I giggle when his fingers grip a little too aggressively to my sides. He smirks at me and dips his face into the crook of my neck. I moan. “What has gotten into you?”

He glances up at me, his gray eyes shining in the muted light. “Ana, I’m about to become one of the most powerful men on the planet. Certainly, the richest. I’m no longer worried about what’s expected of me, or what I should be doing. From this moment forward, I plan on only concerning myself with the things that interest me. This event doesn’t interest me. Talking with all those sycophants who want nothing more than to be invited into this project on the ground level so they can make money off my success, doesn’t interest me. What interests me right now is being as deep inside of you as is humanly possible.”

And that’s exactly what he does. My dress ends up around my neck, my panties fall in tatters to the carpeted floor. He makes me come twice before we pull through the gate to our driveway, and finishes spectacularly as the limo comes to a stop.

Then, he has to carry me inside because my limbs won’t respond, and I’m fucked so dumb that I can’t process the instructions he gives me before he pulls me into his arms.

Honestly, I couldn’t think of a better way to end the evening.

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