The city feels different this time. The heat is stifling after leaving the beautiful seventy-five degree Seattle weather, but it’s not enough to dampen my spirits. A lifetime ago, New York had been a dream. For years I’d lost myself in fantasies of sitting at a counter in a busy coffee shop, absorbing the hustle and bustle that happened all around me while I churned out the next great american novel. Then Christian had brought me here and shattered my heart. Every trip since then has been a string of disasters, each more terrible than the last.
But this time… it’s different.
We’re staying in the penthouse suite of the Ritz-Carlton hotel. We’ve dined in some of the best restaurants I’ve ever been to. Our first night here, Christian took my hand and led me into Central Park. We’d walked along the beautifully manicured paths through the twilight, soaking each other in as he listened to me unload all the trepidation I feel over the Greenwich Library launch. None of the doubt I felt ever crept into the encouraging words he offered in return. After feeling the immense amount of comfort that reassurance gave me, I couldn’t drag him back to our bed fast enough.
The morning of my launch, though, all of that anxiety comes crashing back. Abby showed up at my hotel room first thing this morning to help me prepare. Now she’s sitting cross-legged on the floor of the sitting room, helping me confirm guest lists, vendors and entertainment, transportation, and accommodations for our big name talent. By ten, my fingers are sore from the number of emails I’ve had to type out on my phone.
It’s lunch time when Christian comes back from his workout in the hotel gym, and he finds me shaking with nerves while I pace back and forth across the floor.
“Stop,” he tells me, letting the door slam behind him as he rushes across the room to take me in his arms.
“I can’t. We haven’t been able to get ahold of Meghan Michaels all morning, what if she doesn’t show up?”
“And if she doesn’t?”
“Then fuck her.”
“The catering company called and asked for a half-hour extension, but I told them I couldn’t give that to them. What if I accidentally give everyone food poisoning?”
He rolls his eyes. “You’re being ridiculous now.”
“What if no one subscribes, Christian?”
“That’s not going to happen, baby. Tonight will be perfect. Meghan Michaels will show up and post a million and a half pictures online, no one is going to get sick, and you will still be the most beautiful woman in the world.”
I smile, but let out an exasperated sigh. “That last one isn’t going to help with anything.”
“I disagree.” He leans down, kisses me, then pulls me back towards the door.
“What are you doing?” I ask in a panic when the light from the hallway suddenly comes pouring into my sitting room.
“You need to get out of the hotel for a while, clear your mind. Let’s go see the city a little.”
My protest is cut off by another kiss, and it lasts until he’s pushed me into the elevator and the doors have slid closed behind him.
He doesn’t lead me anywhere in particular. Mostly, we let street-food vendors, performers, and traffic lights lead us through the streets. Once we try to call my dad, who has Calliope while we’re out of town, but Kim tells us he’s got her out on the boat with a fishing pole and she doesn’t expect they’ll be back for a few hours. Christian was irritated when he hung up because he thought getting to talk to our daughter would pacify the last of my nerves, but this is better. Thinking of her sitting with my dad, probably holding the same pink fishing pole I did when I was little, brings a warm sense of comfort that doesn’t extinguish my stress, but is simply more important. I duck under Christian’s arm and hold myself against his side until he suddenly comes to a dead stop.
“We should go this way,” he says, nodding in the opposite direction. I look up at him, confused.
“Why? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, I just don’t go down this street.”
My eyes move up, following the towering buildings until I see exactly why Christian wants to change course. We’re standing in the shadow of the Empire State Building.
Looking at the Art Deco skyscraper, I can suddenly recall my memories from the last time I was here with such vivid clarity, I almost drop his hand. Part of me wonders if he can sense that, because the moment the thought passes through my mind, his fingers tighten around mine.
I hate it. I hate that part of him, no matter how small, will always be waiting for me to leave and it’s because of this building. I hate that he still has nightmares about this place and that I’m the reason for them. I hate that I wasn’t strong enough then to bear what this place represents…
But I am now.
“Come on,” I tell him, tugging against the hand that feels like a vice grip. He doesn’t budge. Instead, his eyes move down to me with alarm.
“No. I don’t go down this street, Anastasia.” His voice is final, leaving no room for negotiation. Which is fine with me, because I also don’t intend on negotiating.
“Fine.” With a hard yank that he doesn’t expect, I slip my hand from his and start across down the sidewalk toward the silver revolving doors. He calls out for me, but I don’t stop. His heavy footfalls sound behind me a second later as he runs to catch up.
“Anastasia, watching you walk away from me down this street is not helping,” he growls, wrapping a hand around my elbow. I don’t let him stop me. I reach out for the bar that stretches across the glass and metal door in front of me, and pull it back.
“Does this help?”
As if he had to walk through a curtain of fire to do it, he comes through the door after me. This time, I don’t get the choice to continue or not.
“Stop.” His hands are firm on me, holding me in place. “I’m not doing this. I don’t want to do this. I want nothing to do with this fucking building.”
“Well that’s a shame. I want to see the view.”
“Why are you doing this?” he whispers, pain finally breaking through the angry determination coloring his face. I give him a small, but reassuring smile, then turn for the elevators. Begrudgingly, he follows after me.
There’s a line to go up to the observation deck, but a few hundred dollar bills in the attendant’s white-gloved hand gets us into an elevator car by ourselves. I can hear Christian grinding his teeth as we feel the jolt of the elevator lift us into the air. So, I do what he does best. I grab hold of the front of his t-shirt, push him back into the wall, the way he’s done to me hundreds of times, and begin to devour his lips.
He doesn’t respond immediately. He kisses me back, but his body is rigid. I reach down to his forearm, gripping tightly to my name, and absolutely ravage him. By the 50th floor, he gives into my passion and suddenly I’m the one pinned beneath him. The weight of what he’s carrying falls on top of me. I can feel it in his lips. I can feel it in the desperate grip of his hands. When the car slows, and the ding announcing our arrival at the 86th floor, I watch him flinch.
He steps out of the elevator willingly, but after that, he doesn’t move. It takes every tool in my arsenal to coax him out onto the observation deck, and when I do, I hold my arms open and look around the crowded viewing area.
“See,” I tell him. “No ghosts.”
He stares at me for a long minute, unable to arrange the emotions roiling through him into coherent thoughts or words. Eventually, he gives up trying and moves to me. His strong arms wrap around my body and he pushes me toward the concrete barrier that gives us a sweeping view of the city. I press back into him, tracing my fingers absentmindedly over his skin as we take everything in.
“I’m never going to leave you, Christian,” I tell him, softly. “I couldn’t, even if I should. Walking away from you would kill me. No matter what, remember?”
He’s quiet for a beat, then exhales with relief. “Say it again.”
“I’ll never leave you. No matter what. This is forever. You didn’t walk away when I was so broken there weren’t enough pieces left of me to make you stay. You didn’t give up on me when I was trying to give up on you. The war is over, Christian, and you’re the only one left to sit on the throne. You want me to be a queen? I am your queen, and I’m going to stand by your side while you rule this world until the day I die. No. Matter. What.” I glance around once more, making a show of it. “This. This is just a building. Part of a past that doesn’t matter anymore.”
He nods and tightens his hold on me. I hum slightly as I feel his lips press into my cheek. We linger for a few more minutes, and when we finally turn back to the elevator, Christian no longer clings to me for dear life. He doesn’t hurry for the elevator and he isn’t irritated with me as we make the descent back to the city streets. He merely pulls me against him and tells me how much I mean to him until the elevator doors slide open, and we step back into New York.
There’s a very stark difference between the events we normally attend for GEH, and the party I’ve put together for GSP. Normally on nights like these, I’m obsessing over my hair or the way I’ll look in the designer gown Christian had custom ordered. Tonight, my hair hangs down straight over my shoulders, I’m dressed in a nice but casual sheath dress, and I’m so strung out with stress I can’t stop stalking back and forth across the bedroom of our suite.
“Well?” Christian asks. He steps out of the bathroom and saunters towards me, holding his hands out to his side, and then spinning around so I can get the whole view of his look. He’s wearing a pair of navy slacks and a white collared shirt that’s unbuttoned further than is normal for him. His sleeves are rolled all the way up to his elbows so his tattoo is on full display. He really is a knockout.
“You look great,” I tell him.
“Great?” He wrinkles his brow with distaste and closes the space between us. “You’re supposed to tell me that I’m the most heart-stoppingly handsome man who has ever walked the face of the earth and then present me a gift as a token of your affection.”
“Why do you think you leave for every one of my events dripping in diamonds, Anastasia?” He lets out a playfully exasperated sigh that makes me giggle.
“Well, you are, in fact, the most heart-stoppingly handsome man who has ever walked the face of the earth, Mr. Grey. And I actually did get you a gift… it’s just not meant for you to wear.”
“Oh?” His eyes shift down to my breasts, intrigued.
“Mhm. But you don’t get to unwrap it until we get home. You’re just going to have to be patient until then.”
He growls and pulls me until I crash into the wall, his body immediately overtaking mine and pinning me in place. “Patience isn’t really my thing, baby.”
I bite my lip and look directly into his smoldering gray eyes. “I know. That’s what’s going to make finally coming back here so much fun.”
With a want-fueled groan, his lips lower to mine. I’m ravaged by his tongue while his hands fist into the fabric of my dress, a vague threat that he could, if he wanted to, just rip it away.
“Let me see it,” he whispers into my mouth. “Give me something to fantasize about all night.”
“Trust me, the second you see it, you’re not going to care about anything else but fucking me. Since I have somewhere to be, you’re just going to have to use your imagination.”
“Must I?” His lips find mine again and his hands move down from my waist to my hips. I can feel his fingers digging into my dress and pulling it up. The loose hem of my skirt skims softly over my skin as it rises up over my thighs. His tongue is half way down my throat, his hands move to my now exposed ass, and his rock hard erection presses into my hip, which is of course the exact moment Abby bursts into my suite.
“Ana, we’re rea—oh my god, I’m so sorry!” She nearly trips over her shoes as she stumbles backwards out of the room, but the distraction is enough for me to slip out of Christian’s grip.
“You heard her,” I tell him. “We’re going to be late.”
The lustful glint in his eye shines back at me, telling me he’s not ready to go fucking anywhere. “I’m hard.”
“Well, try thinking about sports. Not the Seahawks, obviously, since that’ll just make it worse…” I smile at him, chuckling slightly at my own joke. “But, like… the Rams or something.”
He isn’t impressed. Instead, he takes a step toward me and leans down to speak softly in my ear.
“We can go, but if I’m still hard by the time we get in the car, I’m going to have no choice but to lay you over my lap and spank you until you’re as uncomfortable as I am.”
I shiver, then close my eyes and take a deep breath of him. “Or I could just blow you in the back seat…”
He moans, then takes my hand and starts barreling towards the hotel door. Abby has to hurry to keep pace with us as Christian pulls me through the hallway to the elevator. Every update she has for me is better news than I had hoped for, so by the time Christian has me in the back seat of our chauffeured town car, I’m the one who pounces on him.
“Open your pants,” I plead against his lips, reaching over to close the privacy glass between us and the driver. His hands move down to his fly, then tangle in my hair to pull me down to his waiting cock. I don’t ease into it. With a long, satisfied moan, I take him into my mouth and sink down until my face is pressed so hard into him that I can’t breathe.
“Fuck yes, Ana,” he hisses back. His head drops back and his hands fall limply to his side. He doesn’t thrust into my throat, he doesn’t grab ahold of me to try and control my pace. He just lets me pleasure him, and the rare bit of control he’s seceded drives me wild. Every moan, every gasp, every sudden grunt of pleasure is mine. My tongue traces every inch of him, and he hums out how good it feels. My lips pull tightly every time I rise and fall, and it makes the muscles in his legs tense again and again. Every time I suck him into my throat, I purposefully swallow as hard as I can, and it makes him shudder. I even force myself to gag on him a few times, just so he can feel it.
“I’m going to come,” he warns me, so I start sucking harder and keep him deep in my throat. It takes seconds for him to finish after that and the guttural way he shouts my name as he explodes has me high on power. When I finally pull away and see him flushed and panting, I feel a rush wash through me that has me flying.
I’m starting to see why the dominance appeals to him so much.
“I love you,” he says through the harsh, broken breaths he’s still forcing out. With a smile, I lean in and softly press my lips against his. We’re starting up the block towards my party now, I can see the flashes of the cameras waiting for us at the entrance. So I lean back and give him a sheepish look.
“Am I a mess?”
“Just your lipstick. Here…” He reaches up and, with his thumb, brushes away the peach residue that’s smeared around my mouth. I reach into my clutch, cursing myself for not bringing a mirror, and pull out the gold tube to re-apply my makeup. He watches me try to carefully drag the crayon over my lips, but when I hesitate over my cupid’s bow, he laughs, takes the lipstick from me, and colors the rest in himself.
“How do I look?” I ask, rubbing my lips together and leaning back.
He smiles. “Like a fucking dream.”
I hum with affection and grab onto his hand as the car comes to a stop. But when the door opens, he doesn’t let me pull him out with me.
“Take a couple seconds for yourself,” he says instead. “I’ll be right behind you.”
Giving his hand three, quick, I love you squeezes, I step out onto the street by myself. Cameras flash a few times while I move toward the entrance of the venue, and I’m shocked by how many of them are here. This is just a small party, not much different from the one I’d attended with Christian back in June for The Black Rose. I suppose Meghan Michaels attendance was bound to draw the interest of the paparazzi, but when the car door opens behind me and I’m suddenly engulfed in an explosion of light, the photographer’s presence suddenly becomes very clear. Christian’s name flies over my shoulder and I turn to look at him. He doesn’t stop to soak in any of the attention the way he would at a GEH event. Instead, with his head down, he walks to stand behind me, and wraps his arms around my waist. Only then does he look up at the cameras.
I lean back into him and let the bliss I feel being pressed against his chest shine through in my face. He kisses my cheek and I bask in the affection. When I turn and press my lips against his, he holds me tight against him and gives me the most passionate kiss he can, knowing the pictures will be public in just a few short hours. I turn and smile while he keeps adoring eyes focused on me, then I take him by the hand and lead him inside.
He doesn’t even blink over it.
I’d been worried the venue we’d picked for tonight’s party was too large, we only expected around 100 people. Stepping through the front doors, I realize we didn’t choose a space large enough. The place is packed, and the moment we come through the door, every pair of eyes in the room seems to find us.
“Mr. Grey,” a man standing a few feet away from us says, moving forward with his hand outstretched. “My name is Aaron Michelson, I work with JetBlue Airways. If you have a moment to talk about Endurance…”
“I don’t,” Christian interjects. “I’m only here to support my brilliant wife. Excuse us.” He pushes me away from the man opening and closing his mouth like a sea bass behind us, and ignores several other cries for his attention until we spot Carmen near the bar. She’s surrounded by a small crowd of people herself. As we approach, I can hear the heaps of praise they lay on her for her ingenious idea.
“The industry has changed,” she says, profoundly. “I knew we needed to find a way to compete with self-publishing, this seemed like the most reliable way to do that.”
“You’re just full of great ideas, aren’t you?” Christian says, bitterly. Carmen jumps and turns to face us, but her eyes don’t even pass over me. She sees Christian and starts to glare.
“It’s not a great sign of leadership if you can’t even give the people underneath you credit when it’s due.”
“Yeah? How much credit do you give Welch when you’re talking about Endurance?”
“Plenty. I couldn’t have done it without him.”
Carmen rolls her eyes, then steps away from the interested looks of the people standing around her and pulls Christian to the side. “That was a real dirty play you made on Gutierrez.”
He laughs. “I heard what you said to Gutierrez about GEH to get that deal, Gallagher. You don’t want to have to contend with my wrath? Come correct next time.”
“That deal was the crux of my entire 2013 pipeline, Grey. Everything I have is dependent on that contract.”
“So… what do you want for it?”
The grin plastered on his face widens. “You know what I want, Carmen.”
“Yeah, well now.” She grimaces, but Christian shakes his head.
“My reasons haven’t changed.”
“Well, there’s no way in hell. Not now. Not after this.”
“What if I throw in Barney?”
Mostly, I’d been ignoring their conversation, choosing instead to scan the room to make sure my high profile guests haven’t arrived without me knowing. Barney’s name catches my attention as effectively as if it had been my own.
“Barney?” Carmen repeats, though her tone is no longer hard and accusing. She’s interested.
“He’s trained under Welch, he designed your app… I’ll back out of the deal with Gutierrez, tell him I can’t manage it with Endurance, and I’ll give you Barney.”
“And my licensing?”
He shrugs. “Someone might have made a mistake. Who’s to say?”
“I’ll think about it,” she says after a long pause. “I’ll be in touch with your office to set up a meeting.”
“My assistant will be waiting with baited breath.”
She glares at him again, clearly not appreciating the slightly condescending lilt to his voice, then finally turns to look at me. “Congratulations, Anastasia. Your launch party is a hit. Excuse me.”
She starts to walk away, but just before she makes it out of earshot, Christian calls her back.
“What?” Her eyes are sharp. Christian looks back at her as though he’s made of steel.
“I’m warning you, Gallagher. You make me wait for it, I’m going to come take it. And if I have to come take it, I’m going to take a hell of a lot more than I’m asking for right now.”
“Is that a threat?”
“Do I look like the kind of man who makes threats?”
She sucks in a sharp breath of air that makes her shoulders fan out, then she spins on her heels and marches away. My eyes follow her as she moves into the crowd and I’m just about to round on Christian and demand to know what the fuck just happened, but instead, I spot Abby by the door. She waves over to me in a panic and I think I see her mouth that Meghan Michaels is here.
“Hold on, Christian,” I say, distracted. My hand falls from his as I move towards my assistant, but when I look back, he hasn’t followed me. He seems to have melded in perfectly with the group of people Carmen left behind.
The cameras are flashing just as wildly as they did for Christian when I step outside, though this time, they’re pointed at a buxom blonde who looks gleeful as she poses for each shot. She’s an influencer from Los Angeles who decided to write a book about how to become internet famous. It’s not exactly the most intellectual read, but the girl has 18 million PixC followers and I was in no position to turn down that kind of exposure. The way the photographers catcall at her as she turns for the booty shot, makes me think that I’m right.
“Anastasia!” she calls, waving me over. I move to her side and pose with her, ignoring any questions thrown at me and instead letting her take up all the attention. She’s the one I’m here to sell, and if I had my way, she’d stay in front of these cameras all night.
Unfortunately, she loses interest in the attention all too soon and moves inside to seek the spotlight from someone else. I’m stuck though, as my second big name, Naveed Bijan, steps out of the next car to pull up. He’s a comedian who has an impressive following and great wit for writing. I lucked out over him being just obscure enough that his manuscript didn’t catch the attention of the big players in the industry. I let him stand with just his group of friends for a while, then take a few pictures at his side. Once he’s ready to bail, I follow him in.
“If you see a camera, get in front of it,” I tell him before releasing him for the bar. It wasn’t advice I had to give to Meghan. I can see her sitting in the VIP section taking enough selfies that it seems foolish for the press to have come at all. I just have to hope that the hundreds of thousands of likes those photos will undoubtedly get will also result in a few subscriptions.
“What color is it?” Christian whispers in my ear from behind, interrupting my thoughts. He chuckles when I jump.
“What color is what?”
“Whatever the fuck you have under this dress.” I can feel his smile against my neck. “I’ve been picturing red.”
“Wrong.” I laugh, and he wraps his arms around me.
“You could let me find out. There’s a utility closet in the hallway to the bathrooms. All you’d have to do is stay very, very quiet.”
“You think so, huh?” I turn around to face him, my teeth set firmly against my bottom lip as I lean in and brush the tip of my nose against his. He eyes me hungrily, and I can see the idea cross his mind that he might just toss me over his shoulder and carry me back to said utility closet. Before he makes his decision though, we’re once again interrupted by my assistant.
“Ana, I just got the first subscription report back from Stevens. You have to look! We’re already at almost thirty-seven thousand subscribers!”
“What!” My hands can’t move fast enough for my phone, and I nearly break my clutch in two trying to wrestle it out. When it wakes though, I have more than just an email waiting for me. My screen is littered with PixC notifications, texts, missed phone calls, voicemails, and Google Alerts. It makes me panic, so instead of checking my email, I open my texting app. The one at the top is from Kate, so I read it first.
Oh my god, Ana. Go look at Kim’s PixC.
An overwhelming sense of dread takes hold of my heart as I swipe through my apps to open PixC. I don’t have to search for her name because she tagged me in the post. Sitting at the top of my feed is a picture of Calliope, frowning, next to a picture of Christian from last Thanksgiving making the exact same face. She’s captioned it, “No paternity test needed! @AnaGrey @ChristianGrey,” and she’s published it for the entire world to see.
There’s no need for me to look at the Google Alert waiting for me, but I do anyway.
Google Alert: Christian Grey
TMZ, August 21st 2012. Pictures of Christian Grey’s baby have finally surfaced and she looks just like her ultra-hot dad… or does she? The PixC snapshot, which was posted by a close family friend and has introduced Calliope Grey to the world, seems to imply that Anastasia Grey is questioning the paternity of her own child.