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Chapter Twenty-Three

I glance nervously around the bar but cannot see him.

"Ana, what is itYou look like you've seen a ghost."

"It's Christian, he's here."

"WhatReally?" She glances around the bar too.

I have neglected to mention Christian's stalker tendencies to my mom.

I see him. My heart leaps, beginning a juddering thumping beat as he makes his way toward us. He's really here - for me. My inner goddess leaps up cheering from her chaise longue. Moving smoothly through the crowd, his hair glints burnished copper and red under the recessed halogens. His bright gray eyes are shining with - angerTensionHis mouth is set in a grim line, jaw tense. Oh holy shit... no. I am so mad at him right now, and here he is. How can I be angry with him in front of my mother?

He arrives at our table, gazing at me warily. He's dressed in customary white linen shirt and jeans.

"Hi," I squeak, unable to hide my shock and awe at seeing him here in the flesh.

"Hi," he replies, and leaning down, he kisses my cheek, taking me by surprise.

"Christian, this is my mother, Carla." My ingrained manners take over.

He turns to greet my mom.

"Mrs. Adams, I am delighted to meet you."

How does he know her name He gives her the heart-stopping, Christian Grey patented, full-blown-no-prisoners-taken smile. She doesn't have a hope. My mother's lower jaw practically hits the table. Jeez, get a grip Mom. She takes his proffered hand and they shake. My mother hasn't replied. Oh, complete dumbfounded speechlessness is genetic

- I had no idea.

"Christian," she manages finally, breathlessly.

He smiles knowingly at her, his gray eyes twinkling. I narrow my eyes at them both.

"What are you doing here?" My question sounds more brittle than I mean, and his smile disappears, his expression now guarded. I am thrilled to see him, but completely thrown off balance, my anger about Mrs. Robinson simmering through my veins. I don't know if I want to shout at him or throw myself into his arms - but I don't think he'd like either - and I want to know how long he has been watching us. I'm also a little anxious about the email I just sent him.

"I came to see you, of course." He gazes down at me impassively. Oh, what is he thinking"I'm staying in this hotel."

"You're staying here?" I sound like a sophomore on amphetamines, too high-pitched even for my own ears.

"Well, yesterday you said you wished I was here." He pauses trying to gauge my reaction. "We aim to please, Miss Steele." His voice is quiet with no trace of humor.

Crap - Is he mad Maybe the Mrs. Robinson commentsOr the fact that I am on my third, soon to be fourth CosmoMy mother is glancing anxiously at the two of us.

"Won't you join us for a drink, Christian?" She waves to the waiter who is at her side in a nanosecond.

"I'll have a gin and tonic," Christian says. "Hendricks if you have it or Bombay Sap-phire. Cucumber with the Hendricks, lime with the Bombay."

Holy hell... only Christian could make a meal out of ordering a drink.

"And two more Cosmos please," I add, looking anxiously at Christian. I am drinking with my mother - no way can he be angry about that.

"Please pull up a chair, Christian."

"Thank you, Mrs. Adams."

Christian pulls a nearby chair over and sits gracefully down beside me.

"So you just happen to be staying in the hotel where we're drinking?" I ask, trying hard to keep my tone light.

"Or, you just happen to be drinking in the hotel where I'm staying," Christian replies.

"I just finished dinner, came in here, and saw you. I was distracted thinking about your most recent email, and I glance up and there you are. Quite a coincidence, eh?" He cocks his head to one side, and I see a trace of a smile. Thank heavens - we may be able to save the evening after all.

"My mother and I were shopping this morning and on the beach this afternoon. We decided on a few cocktails this evening," I mutter, feeling that I owe him some sort of explanation.

"Did you buy that top?" He nods at my brand new green silk camisole, "The color suits you. And you've caught some sun. You look lovely."

I flush, speechless at his compliment.

"Well, I was going to pay you a visit tomorrow. But here you are."

He reaches over, takes my hand, and squeezes it gently, running his thumb across my knuckles to and fro... and I feel the familiar pull. The electric charge zapping beneath my skin under the gentle pressure from his thumb, firing into my blood stream and pulsing around my body, heating everything in its path. It's been over two days since I saw him.

Oh my... I want him. My breath hitches. I blink at him, smiling shyly, and see a smile play on his beautiful, sculptured lips.

"I thought I'd surprise you. But as ever, Anastasia, you surprise me by being here."

I glance quickly at Mom who is staring at Christian... yes staring! Stop it Mom. As if he's some exotic creature, never seen before. I mean, I know I've never had a boyfriend, and Christian only qualifies as such for ease of reference - but is it so unbelievable that I could attract a manThis manYes, frankly - look at him - my subconscious snaps. Oh, shut up! Who invited you to the partyI scowl at my mom - but she doesn't seem to notice.

"I don't want to interrupt the time you have with your mother. I'll have a quick drink and then retire. I have work to do," he states earnestly.

"Christian, it's lovely to meet you finally," Mom interjects, finally finding her voice.

"Ana has spoken very fondly of you."

He smiles at her.

"Really?" He raises an eyebrow at me, an amused expression on his face, and I flush again.

The waiter arrives with our drinks.

"Hendricks, sir," he says with a triumphant flourish.

"Thank you," Christian murmurs in acknowledgement.

I sip my latest Cosmo nervously.

"How long are you in Georgia, Christian?" Mom asks.

"Until Friday, Mrs. Adams."

"Will you have dinner with us tomorrow eveningAnd please, call me Carla."

"I'd be delighted to, Carla."

"Excellent. If you two will excuse me, I need to visit the powder room."

Mom... you've just been. I look at her desperately as she stands and walks off, leaving us alone together.

"So, you're mad at me for having dinner with an old friend." Christian turns his burning, wary gaze to me, lifting my hand to his lips and kissing each knuckle gently.

Jeez, he wants to do this now?

"Yes," I murmur as my heated blood courses through me.

"Our sexual relationship was over long ago, Anastasia," he whispers. "I don't want anyone but you. Haven't you worked that out yet?"

I blink at him.

"I think of her as a child molester, Christian." I hold my breath waiting for his reaction.

Christian blanches.

"That's very judgmental. It wasn't like that," he whispers, shocked. He releases my hand. Judgmental?

"Oh, how was it then?" I ask. The Cosmos are making me brave.

He frowns at me, bewildered. I continue.

"She took advantage of a vulnerable fifteen-year-old boy. If you had been a fifteen-year-old girl and Mrs. Robinson was a Mr. Robinson, tempting you into a BDSM lifestyle, that would have been okayIf it was Mia, say?"

He gasps and scowls at me.

"Ana, it wasn't like that."

I glare at him.

"Okay, it didn't feel like that to me," he continues quietly. "She was a force for good.

What I needed."

"I don't understand." It's my turn to look bewildered.

"Anastasia, your mother will be back shortly. I'm not comfortable talking about this now. Later maybe. If you don't want me here, I have a plane on stand-by at Hilton Head.

I can go."

He's angry with me... no.

"No - don't go. Please. I'm thrilled you're here. I'm just trying to make you understand. I'm angry that as soon as I left, you had dinner with her. Think about how you are when I get anywhere near Jose. Jose is a good friend. I have never had a sexual relationship with him. Whereas you and her," I trail off, unwilling to take that thought further.

"You're jealous?" He stares at me, dumbfounded, and his eyes soften slightly, warming."Yes, and angry about what she did to you."

"Anastasia, she helped me, that's all I'll say about that. And as for your jealousy, put yourself in my shoes. I haven't had to justify my actions to anyone in the last seven years.

Not one person. I do as I wish, Anastasia. I like my autonomy. I didn't go and see Mrs.

Robinson to upset you. I went because every now and then we have dinner. She's a friend and a business partner."

Business partnerHoly crap. This is news.

He gazes at me, assessing my expression.

"Yes, we're business partners. The sex is over between us. It has been for years."

"Why did your relationship finish?"

His mouth narrows, and his eyes gleam.

"Her husband found out."

Holy shit!

"Can we talk about this some other time - somewhere more private?" he growls.

"I don't think you'll ever convince me that she's not some kind of paedophile."

"I don't think of her that way. I never have. Now that's enough!" he snaps.

"Did you love her?"

"How are you two getting on?" My mother has returned, unseen by either of us.

I plaster a fake smile on my face as both Christian and I lean back hastily... guiltily.

She gazes at me.

"Fine, Mom."

Christian sips his drink, watching me closely, his expression guarded. What is he thinkingDid he love herI think if he did, I will lose it, big time.

"Well ladies, I shall leave you to your evening."

No... no... he can't leave me hanging like this.

"Please put these drinks on my tab, room number 612. I'll call on you in the morning, Anastasia. Until tomorrow, Carla."

"Oh, it's so nice to hear someone use your full name."

"Beautiful name for a beautiful girl," Christian murmurs, shaking her outstretched hands, and she actually simpers .

Oh Mom, - et tu Brute I stand, gazing up at him, imploring him to answer my question, and he kisses my cheek, chastely.

"Laters, baby," he whispers in my ear. Then he's gone.

Damned control-freak-bastard. My anger returns in full force. I slump into my chair and turn to face my mother.

"Well strike me down with a feather, Ana. He's a catch. I don't know what's going on between you two though. I think you need to talk to each other. Phew - the UST in here, it's unbearable." She fans herself theatrically.


"Go talk to him."

"I can't. I came here to see you."

"Ana, you came here because you're confused about that boy. It's obvious you two are crazy about each other. You need to talk to him. He's just flown three thousand odd miles to see you, for heaven's sake. And you know how awful it is to fly."

I flush. I haven't told her about his private plane.

"What?" she snaps at me.

"He has his own plane," I mumble, embarrassed, and it's only two and a half thousand miles, Mom.

Why am I embarrassed Her eyebrows shoot up.

"Wow," she mutters. "Ana, there's something going on between you two. I've been trying to fathom it since you arrived here. But the only way you are going to sort the problem, whatever it is, is to talk it through with him. You can do all the thinking you like - but until you actually talk, you're not going to get anywhere."

I frown at my mother.

"Ana, honey, you've always had a tendency to over-analyze everything. Go with your gut. What does that tell you, sweetheart?"

I stare at my fingers.

"I think I'm in love with him," I mutter.

"I know darling. And he with you."


"Yes, Ana. Hell - what do you needA neon sign flashing on his forehead?"

I gape at her and tears prick the corner of my eyes.

"Ana, darling. Don't cry."

"I don't think he loves me."

"I don't care how rich you are, you don't drop everything and get in your private plane to cross a whole continent just for afternoon tea. Go to him! This is a beautiful location, very romantic. It's also neutral territory."

I squirm under her gaze. I want to go and I don't.

"Darling, don't feel you have to come back with me. I want you happy - and right now I think the key to your happiness is upstairs in room 612. If you need to come home later, the key is under the Yucca plant on the front porch. If you stay - well... you're a big girl now. Just be safe."

I flush stars and stripes red. Jeez, Mom.

"Let's finish our Cosmos first."

"That's my girl, Ana." She grins.

I knock timidly on room 612 and wait. Christian opens the door. He's on his cell. He blinks at me in complete surprise, then holds the door open wide and beckons me into his room.

"All the redundancy packages concluded?... And the cost?... " Christian whistles between his teeth. "Sheesh... that was one expensive mistake... And Lucas... "

I glance around the room. He's in a suite, like the one at the Heathman. The furnishings here are ultra modern, very now. All muted dark purples and golds with bronze starbursts on the walls. Christian walks over to dark wood unit and pulls open a door to reveal a mini-bar. He indicates that I should help myself, then wanders into the bedroom.

I assume it's so I can no longer hear his conversation. I shrug. He didn't stop his call when I entered his study that time. I hear water running... he's filling a bath. I help myself to an orange juice. He ambles back into the room.

"Have Andrea send me the schematics. Barney said he'd cracked the problem... "

Christian laughs. "No, Friday... There's a plot of land here that I'm interested in... Yeah, get Bill to call... No, tomorrow... I want to see what Georgia will offer if we move in."

Christian doesn't take his eyes off me. Handing me a glass, he points to an ice bucket.

"If their incentives are attractive enough... I think we should consider it, though I'm not sure about the damned heat here... I agree Detroit has its advantages too, and it's cooler... " His face darkens momentarily. Why "Get Bill to call. Tomorrow... Not too early." He hangs up and stares at me, his face unreadable, and the silence stretches between us. Okay... my turn to talk.

"You didn't answer my question," I murmur.

"No. I didn't," he says quietly, his gray eyes wide and cautious.

"No you didn't answer my question or no you didn't love her?"

He folds his arms and leans against the wall, and a small smile plays upon his lips.

"What are you doing here, Anastasia?"

"I've just told you."

He takes a deep breath.

"No. I didn't love her." He frowns at me, amused yet puzzled.

I can't believe I'm holding my breath. I sag like an old cloth sack as I release it. Well, thank heavens for that. How would I feel if he actually loved the witch?

"You're quite the green-eyed goddess, Anastasia. Who would have thought?"

"Are you making fun of me, Mr. Grey?"

"I wouldn't dare." He shakes his head solemnly, but he has a wicked gleam in his eye.

"Oh, I think you would, and I think you do - often."

He smirks as I give him back the words he's said to me before. His eyes darken.

"Please stop biting your lip. You're in my room, I haven't set eyes on you for nearly three days, and I've flown a long way to see you." His tone has changed to soft, sensual.

His BlackBerry buzzes, distracting us both, and he switches it off without glancing to see who it is. My breath hitches. I know where this is going... but we're supposed to talk.

He takes a step towards me wearing his sexy predatory look.

"I want you, Anastasia. Now. And you want me. That's why you're here."

"I really did want to know," I whisper as a defense.

"Well, now you that you do, are you coming or going?"

I flush as he comes to a halt in front of me.

"Coming," I murmur, staring anxiously up at him.

"Oh, I hope so." He gazes down at me. "You were so mad at me," he breathes.


"I don't remember anyone but my family ever being mad at me. I like it."

He runs the tips of fingers down my cheek. Oh my, his proximity, his delicious Christian smell. We're supposed to be talking, but my heart is pounding, my blood singing as it courses through my body, desire, pooling, unfurling... everywhere. Christian bends and runs his nose along my shoulder and up to the base of my ear, his fingers slipping into my hair."We should talk." I whisper.


"There's so much I want to say."

"Me too."

He plants a soft kiss under my earlobe while his fingers tighten in my hair. Pulling my head back, he exposes my throat to his lips. His teeth skim my chin, and he kisses my throat.

"I want you," he breathes.

I moan and reach up and grasp his arms.

"Are you bleeding?" He continues to kiss me.

Holy Fuck. Does nothing slip by him?

"Yes," I whisper, embarrassed.

"Do you have cramps?"

"No." I flush . Jeez...

He stops and looks down at me.

"Did you take your pill?"

"Yes." How mortifying is this?

"Let's go have a bath."


He takes my hand and leads me into the bedroom. It's dominated by a super-king size bed with elaborate drapes. But we don't stop there. He takes me into the bathroom which is two rooms, all aquamarines and white limestone. It's huge - In the second room a sunken bath, big enough for four people with stone steps that lead into it, is slowly filling with water. Steam rises gently above the foam, and I notice a stone seat all the way round.

Candles flicker to the side. Wow... he's done all this while on the phone.

"Do you have a hair tie?"

I blink at him, fish into my jeans pocket, and pull out a hair elastic.

"Put your hair up," he orders softly. I do as he asks.

It's warm and sultry beside the bath, and my camisole starts to stick. He leans over and shuts off the faucet. leadingL me back into the first part of the bathroom,he stands behind me as we face the wall-sized mirror above the two glass sinks.

"Lift up your arms," he breathes. I do as I'm told, and he lifts my camisole over my head so that I'm topless standing in front of him. Not taking his eyes off mine, he reaches around and undoes the top button on my jeans and the zipper.

"I'm going to have you in the bathroom, Anastasia."

Leaning down, he kisses my neck. I move my head to one side and give him easier access. Hooking his thumbs into my jeans, he slowly slides them down my legs, sinking down behind me as he pulls them and my panties to the floor.

"Step out of your jeans."

Grasping the edge of the sink, I do just that. I am now naked, staring at myself, and he's kneeling behind me. He kisses and then softly bites my behind, making me gasp. He stands and stares at me once more in the mirror. I try hard to stay still, ignoring my natural inclination to cover myself. He splays his hand across my belly, the span of his hand almost reaching from hip to hip.

"Look at you. You are so beautiful," he murmurs. "See how you feel." He clasps both my hands in his, his palms against the backs of my hands, his fingers in between mine so that my fingers are splayed. He places my hands on my belly. "Feel how soft your skin is."

His voice is soft and low. He moves my hands in a slow circle then upwards towards my breasts. "Feel how full your breasts are." He holds my hands so that they cup my breasts.

He gently strokes my nipples with his thumbs over and over.

I moan between parted lips and arch my back so my breasts fill my palms. He squeezes my nipples between our thumbs, pulling gently so that they elongate further. I watch in fascination at the wanton creature writhing in front of me. Oh this feels good. I groan and close my eyes, no longer wanting to see that libidinous woman in the mirror falling apart under her own hands... his hands... feeling my skin as he would, experiencing how arousing it is - just his touch, and his calm, soft, commands.

"That's right, baby," he murmurs.

He guides my hands down the sides of my body, past my waist to my hips, and across to my pubic hair. He slides his leg in between mine, pushing my feet further apart, widening my stance, and runs my hands over my sex, one hand at a time in turn, setting up a rhythm. It is so erotic. Truly I am a marionette and he is the master puppeteer.

"Look at you glow, Anastasia," he whispers as he trails kisses and soft bites along my shoulder. I groan. Suddenly he lets go.

"Carry on," he orders, and stands back watching me.

I rub myself. No. I want him, him to do it. It doesn't feel the same. I'm lost without him. He pulls his shirt over his head and quickly takes off his jeans.

"You'd rather I do this?" His gray gaze scorches mine in the mirror.

"Oh yes... please," I breathe.

He wraps his arms around me again and takes my hands once more, continuing the sensual caress across my sex, over my clitoris. His chest hair scrapes against me, his erection presses against me. Oh soon... please. He bites the nape of my neck, and I close my eyes, enjoying the myriad of sensations; my neck, my groin... the feel of him behind me.

He stops abruptly and spins me around, circling my wrists with one hand, imprisoning my hands behind me, and pulling at my ponytail with the other. I am flush against him, and he kisses me wildly, ravaging my mouth with his. Holding, h me in place.

His breathing is ragged, matching mine.

"When did you start your period, Anastasia?" he asks out of the blue, gazing down at me. "Err... yesterday," I mumble in my highly aroused state.

"Good." He releases me and turns me around.

"Hold on to the sink," he orders and pulls my hips back again, like he did in the playroom, so I'm bending down.

He reaches between my legs and pulls on the blue string... what! And... a gently pulls my tampon out and tosses it into the nearby toilet. Holy fuck. Sweet mother of all... Jeez.

And then he's inside me... ah! Skin against skin... moving slowly at first... easily, testing me, pushing me... oh my. I grip on to the sink, panting, forcing myself back on him, feeling him inside me. Oh the sweet agony... his hands clasp my hips. He sets a punishing rhythm - in, out, and he reaches around and finds my clitoris, massaging me... oh jeez. I can feel myself quicken.

"That's right, baby," he rasps as he grinds into me, angling his hips, and it's enough to send me flying, flying high.

Whoa... and I come, loudly, gripping for dear life onto the sink as I spiral down through my orgasm, everything spinning and clenching at once. He follows, clasping me tightly, his front on my back as he climaxes and calls my name like it's a litany or a prayer.

"Oh, Ana!" His breathing is ragged in my ear, in perfect synergy with mine. "Oh, baby, will I ever get enough of you?" he whispers.

Will it always be like thisSo overwhelming, so all-consuming, so bewildering and beguiling. I wanted to talk, but now I'm spent and dazed from his lovemaking and wondering if I will ever get enough of him

We sink slowly to the floor, and he wraps his arms around me, imprisoning me. I am curled on his lap, my head against his chest, as we both calm. Very subtly, I inhale his sweet, intoxicating Christian scent. I must not nuzzle. I must not nuzzle. I repeat the mantra in my head - though I am so tempted to do so. I want to lift my hand and draw patterns in his chest hair with my fingertips... but I resist, knowing that he'll hate it if I do. We are both quiet, lost in our thoughts. I am lost in him... lost to him.

I remember that I have my period.

"I'm bleeding," I murmur.

"Doesn't bother me," he breathes.

"I noticed." I can't keep the dryness out of my voice.

He tenses slightly.

"Does it bother you?" he asks softly.

Does it bother meMaybe it should... should itNo, it doesn't. I lean back and look up at him, and he gazes down at me, his eyes a soft cloudy gray.

"No, not at all."

He smirks.

"Good. Let's have a bath."

He uncurls from around me, placing me on the floor as he makes to stand. As he does, I notice again the small, round, white scars on his chest. They are not chicken pox, I muse absentmindedly. Grace said he was hardly affected. Holy shit... they must be burns.

Burns from whatI blanch at the realization, shock and revulsion coursing through me.

From cigarettesMrs. Robinson, his birth mother, whoWho did this to himMaybe there's a reasonable explanation, and I'm over-reacting - wild hope blossoms in my chest

- hope that I am wrong.

"What is it?" Christian's face is wide-eyed with alarm.

"Your scars," I whisper. "They're not from chicken pox."

I watch as in a split second he closes down, his stance changing from relaxed, calm, and at ease, to defensive - angry, even. He frowns, his face darkening, and his mouth presses into a thin, hard line.

"No, they're not," he snaps, but he does not elaborate further. He stands, holds his hand out for me, and hauls me to my feet.

"Don't look at me like that." His voice is colder and scolding as he lets go of my hand.

I flush, chastened, and stare down at my fingers, and I know, I know that someone stubbed cigarettes out on Christian. I feel sick.

"Did she do that?" I whisper before I can stop myself.

He says nothing, so I'm forced to look at him. He's glaring at me.

"SheMrs. RobinsonShe's not an animal, Anastasia. Of course she didn't. I don't understand why you feel you have to demonize her."

He's standing there, naked, gloriously naked, with my blood on him... and we're finally having this conversation. And I'm naked too - neither of us has anywhere to hide, except perhaps the bath. I take a deep breath, move past him, and step down into the water.

It is deliciously warm, soothing, and deep. I melt into the fragrant foam and stare up at him, hiding among the bubbles.

"I just wonder what you would be like if you hadn't met her. If she hadn't introduced you to your... um, lifestyle."

He sighs and steps down into the bath opposite me, his jaw clenched with tension, his eyes frosty. As he gracefully submerges his body beneath the water, he's careful not to touch me. Jeez - have I made him that mad?

He stares impassively at me, his face unreadable, saying nothing. Again the silence stretches between us, but I hold my counsel. It's your turn Grey - I am not caving this time.

My subconscious is nervous, anxiously biting her nails - this could go either way. Christian and I stare at each other, but I am not backing down. Eventually, after what seems like a millennium, he shakes his head, and he smirks.

"I would probably have gone the way of my birth mother, had it not been for Mrs.


Oh! I blink at him. Crack addict or whorePossibly both?

"She loved me in a way I found... acceptable," he adds with a shrug.

What the hell does that mean?

"Acceptable?" I whisper.

"Yes." He stares intently at me. "She distracted me from the destructive path I found myself following. It's very hard to grow up in a perfect family when you're not perfect."

Oh no. My mouth dries as I digest his words. He gazes as me, his expression unfathomable. He's not going to tell me any more. How frustrating. Inside, I'm reeling - he sounds so full of self-loathing. And Mrs. Robinson loved him. Holy shit... does she still?

I feel like I've been kicked in the stomach.

"Does she still love you?"

"I don't think so, not like that." He frowns as if he hasn't thought about the idea. "I keep telling you it was a long time ago. It's in the past. I couldn't change it even if I wanted to, which I don't. She saved me from myself." He's exasperated and runs a wet hand through his hair. "I've never discussed this with anyone." He pauses, "Except Dr.

Flynn, of course. And the only reason I'm talking about this now, to you, is because I want you to trust me."

"I do trust you, but I do want to know you better, and whenever I try to talk to you, you distract me. There's so much I want to know."

"Oh for pity's sake, Anastasia. What do you want to knowWhat do I have to do?" His eyes blaze, and though he doesn't raise his voice, I know he's trying to rein in his temper.

I glance quickly down at my hands, clear beneath the water as the bubbles have started to disperse.

"I'm just trying to understand, you're such an enigma. Unlike anyone I've met before.

I'm glad you're telling me what I want to know."

Jeez - maybe it's the Cosmopolitans making me brave, but suddenly I cannot bear the distance between us. I move through the water to his side and lean against him so we're touching, skin to skin. He tenses and eyes me warily, as if I might bite. Well, that's a turnaround. My inner goddess gazes at him in quiet, surprised speculation.

"Please don't be angry with me," I whisper.

"I am not angry with you, Anastasia. I'm just not used to this kind of talking - this probing. I only have this with Dr. Flynn and with - " He stops and frowns.

"With her. Mrs. Robinson. You talk to her?" I prompt, trying to rein in my own temper.

"Yes, I do."

"What about?"

He shifts in the bath so that he's facing me, causing the water to lap over the sides onto the floor. He places his arm around my shoulders, resting on the ledge of the bath.

"Persistent aren't you?" he murmurs, a trace of irritation in his voice. "Life, the universe - business. Anastasia, Mrs. R and I go way back. We can discuss anything."

"Me?" I whisper.

"Yes." Gray eyes watch me carefully.

I bite my bottom lip, trying to curb the sudden rush of anger that surfaces.

"Why do you talk about me?" I endeavor not to sound whiney and petulant, but I don't succeed. I know I should stop. I am pushing him too hard. My subconscious has her Edvard Munch face on again.

"I've never met anyone like you, Anastasia."

"What does that meanAnyone who just didn't automatically sign your paperwork, no questions asked?"

He shakes his head.

"I need advice."

"And you take advice from Mrs. Paedo?" I snap. The hold on my temper is more tentative than I thought.

"Anastasia - enough," he snaps back sternly, his eyes narrowing.

I'm skating on thin ice, and I'm heading into danger. "Or I'll put you across my knee.

I have no sexual or romantic interest in her whatsoever. She's a dear, valued friend and a business partner. That's all. We have a past, a shared history, which was monumentally beneficial for me, though it fucked up her marriage - but that side of our relationship is over."

Jeez - another part I just can't understand. She was married as well. How did they get away with it for so long?

"And your parents never found out?"

"No," he growls. "I've told you this."

And I know that's it. I cannot ask him any further questions about her because he will lose it with me.

"Are you done?" he snaps.

"For now."

He takes a deep breath and visibly relaxes in front of me, like a great weight is lifted from his shoulders or something.

"Right - my turn," he mutters, and his glare turns steely, speculative. "You haven't responded to my email."

I flush. Oh, I hate the spotlight on me, and it seems he's going to get angry every time we have a discussion. I shake my head. Perhaps that's how he feels about my questions, he's not used to being challenged. The thought is revelatory, distracting, and unnerving.

"I was going to respond. But now you're here."

"You'd rather I wasn't?" he breathes, his expression impassive again.

"No, I'm pleased," I murmur.

"Good." He gives me a genuine, relieved smile. "I'm pleased I'm here too - in spite of your interrogation. So, while it's acceptable to grill me, you think you can claim some kind of diplomatic immunity just because I've flown all this way to see youI'm not buying it, Miss Steele. I want to know how you feel."

Oh no...

"I told you. I am pleased you're here. Thank you for coming all this way," I say feebly.

"It's my pleasure, Miss Steele." His eyes shine as he leans down and kisses me gently.

I feel myself responding automatically. The water is still warm, the bathroom still steamy.

He stops and pulls back, gazing down at me.

"No. I think I want some answers first before we do any more."

More There's that word again. And he wants answers... answers to whatI don't have a secret past - I don't have a harrowing childhood. What could he possibly want to know about me that he doesn't already know?

I sigh, resigned.

"What do you want to know?"

"Well, how you feel about our would-be arrangement, for starters."

I blink at him. Truth or dare time - my subconscious and inner goddess glance nervously at one another. Hell, let's go for truth.

"I don't think I can do it for an extended period of time. A whole weekend being someone I'm not." I flush and stare at my hands.

He tips my chin up, and he's smirking at me, amused.

"No, I don't think you could either."

And part of me feels slightly affronted and challenged.

"Are you laughing at me?"

"Yes, but in a good way," he says with a small smile.

He leans down and kisses me softly, briefly.

"You're not a great submissive," he breathes as he holds my chin, his eyes dancing with humor.

I stare at him shocked, then I burst out laughing - and he joins me.

"Maybe I don't have a good teacher."

He snorts.

"Maybe. Perhaps I should be stricter with you." He cocks his head to one side and gives me an artful smile.

I swallow. Jeez, no. But at the same time, my muscles clench deliciously deep inside.

It is his way of showing that he cares. Perhaps the only way he can show he cares - I realize that. He's staring at me, gauging my reaction.

"Was it that bad when I spanked you the first time?"

I gaze back at him, blinking. Was it that bad I remember feeling confused by my reaction. It hurt, but not that much in retrospect. He's said over and over again it's more in my head. And the second time... Well, that was good... hot.

"No, not really," I whisper.

"It's more the idea of it?" he prompts.

"I suppose. Feeling pleasure, when one isn't supposed to."

"I remember feeling the same. Takes a while to get your head around it."

Holy hell. This was when he was a kid.

"You can always safe-word, Anastasia. Don't forget that. And, as long as you follow the rules, which fulfill a deep need in me for control and to keep you safe, then perhaps we can find a way forward."

"Why do you need to control me?"

"Because it satisfies a need in me that wasn't met in my formative years."

"So it's a form of therapy?"

"I've not thought of it like that, but yes, I suppose it is."

This I can understand. This will help.

"But, here's the thing - one moment you say don't defy me, the next you say you like to be challenged. That's a very fine line to tread successfully."

He gazes at me for a moment, then frowns.

"I can see that. But you seem to be doing fine so far."

"But at what personal costI'm tied up in knots here."

"I like you tied up in knots," he smirks.

"That's not what I meant!" I splash him in exasperation.

He gazes down at me, arching an eyebrow.

"Did you just splash me?"

"Yes." Holy shit... that look.

"Oh, Miss Steele." He grabs me and pulls me onto his lap, sloshing water all over the floor. "I think we've done enough talking for now."

He clasps his hands on either side of my head and kisses me. Deeply. Possessing my mouth. Angling my head... controlling me. I moan against his lips. This is what he likes. This is what he's so good at. Everything ignites inside me and my fingers are in his hair, holding him to me, and I'm kissing him back and saying I want you too the only way I know how. He groans, shifting me so I'm astride him, kneeling over him, his erection beneath me. He pulls back and looks at me, his eyes hooded, glowing and lustful. I drop my hands to grab on to the edge of the bath but he grips both my wrists and pulls my hands behind my back, holding them together in one hand.

"I'm going to have you now," he whispers and lifts me so that I'm hovering over him.

"Ready?" he breathes.

"Yes," I whisper, and he eases me on to him, slowly, exquisitely slowly... filling me...

watching me as he takes me.

I groan, closing my eyes, and I revel in the sensation, the stretching fullness. He flexes his hips, and I gasp, leaning forward, resting my forehead against his.

"Please let my hands go," I whisper.

"Don't touch me," he pleads, and releasing my wrists, he grabs my hips.

Clasping the bath ledge, I move up and then down slowly, opening my eyes to gaze at him. He's watching me. His mouth open slightly, his breathing halted, stilted - his tongue between his teeth. He looks so... hot. We're wet and slippery and moving against each other. I lean down and kiss him. He closes his eyes. Tentatively, I bring my hands up to his head and run my fingers through his hair, not taking my lips from his mouth. This is allowed. He likes this. I like this. And we move together. I tug his hair, tipping his head back and deepen the kiss, riding him - faster, picking up the rhythm. I moan against his mouth. He starts to lift me faster, faster... holding my hips. Kissing me back. We are wet mouths and tongues, tangled hair, and moving hips. All sensation... all consuming again.

I am close... I am starting to recognize this delicious tightening... quickening. And the water... it's swirling around us, our own whirlpool, a stirring vortex as our movements become more frantic... sloshing everywhere, mirroring what's happening inside me... and I just don't care.

I love this man. I love his passion, the effect I have on him. I love that he's flown so far to see me. I love that he cares about me... he cares. It's so unexpected, so fulfilling.

He is mine, and I am his.

"That's right, baby," he breathes.

And I come, my orgasm ripping through me, a turbulent, passionate, apogee that devours me whole. And suddenly Christian crushes me to him... his arms wrapped around my back as he finds his release.

"Ana, baby!" he cries, and it's a wild invocation, stirring and touching the depths of my soul.

We lie staring at each other, gray eyes into blue, face to face, in the super king bed, both hugging our pillows on our fronts. Naked. Not touching. Just looking and admiring, covered by the sheet.

"Do you want to sleep?" Christian asks, his voice soft. He is beautiful; the mix of colors in his hair vivid against the white Egyptian cotton pillowcase, gray eyes, smoldering, expressive. He looks concerned.

"No. I'm not tired." I feel strangely energized. It's been so good to talk - I don't want to stop.

"What do you want to do?" he asks.


He smiles.

"About what?"


"What stuff?"


"What about me?"

"What's your favorite film?"

He grins.

"Today, it's 'The Piano'."

His grin is infectious.

"Of course. Silly me. Such a sad, exciting score, which no doubt you can playSo many accomplishments, Mr. Grey."

"And the greatest one is you, Miss Steele."

"So I am number seventeen."

He frowns at me not comprehending.


"Number of women you've um... had sex with."

His lips quirk up, his eyes shining with incredulity.

"Not exactly."

"You said fifteen," My confusion is obvious.

"I was referring to the number of women in my playroom. I thought that's what you meant. You didn't ask me how many women I'd had sex with."

"Oh." Holy shit... there's more... How I gape at him. "Vanilla?"

"No. You are my one vanilla conquest," he shakes his head, still grinning at me.

Why does he find this funnyAnd why am I grinning back at him like an idiot?

"I can't give you a number. I didn't put notches in the bedpost or anything."

"What are we talking - tens, hundreds... thousands?" My eyes grow wilder as the numbers get larger.

"Tens. We're in the tens, for pity's sake."

"All submissives?"


"Stop grinning at me," I scold him mildly, trying and failing to keep a straight face.

"I can't. You're funny."

"Funny peculiar or funny ha ha?"

"A bit of both I think." His words mirror mine.

"That's a damned cheek, coming from you."

He leans across and kisses the tip of my nose.

"This will shock you, Anastasia. Ready?"

I nod, wide-eyed, still with the stupid grin on my face.

"All submissives in training, when I was training. There are places in and around Seattle that one can go and practice. Learn to do what I do," he says.


"Oh." I blink at him.

"Yep, I've paid for sex, Anastasia."

"That's nothing to be proud of," I mutter haughtily. "And you're right... I am deeply shocked. And cross that I can't shock you."

"You wore my underwear."

"Did that shock you?"

"Yes." My inner goddess pole-vaults over the fifteen-foot bar.

"You didn't wear your panties to meet my parents."

"Did that shock you?"


Jeez, the bar's moved to sixteen feet.

"It seems I can only shock you in the underwear department."

"You told me you were a virgin. That's the biggest shock I've ever had."

"Yes, your face was a picture, a Kodak moment." I giggle.

"You let me work you over with a riding crop."

"Did that shock you?"


I grin.

"Well, I may let you do it again."

"Oh, I do hope so, Miss Steele. This weekend?"

"Okay," I agree, shyly.


"Yes. I'll go to the Red Room of Pain again."

"You say my name."

"That shocks you?"

"The fact that I like it shocks me."


He grins.

"I want to do something tomorrow." His eyes glow with excitement.


"A surprise. For you." His voice is low and soft.

I raise an eyebrow and stifle a yawn at the same time.

"Am I boring you, Miss Steele?" His tone is sardonic.


He leans across and kisses me gently on my lips.

"Sleep," he commands, then switches off the light.

And in this quiet moment, as I close my eyes, spent and sated, I think I'm in the eye of the storm. And in spite of all he's said, and what he hasn't said, I don't think I have ever been so happy.

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