Authors: E L James
“No. Rarely does at these kinds of events.” I change the subject. “The boy’s quite talented, isn’t he?”
“Why else do you think I asked him to take your portrait?” Her pride in his work is obvious. It irks me. She admires him and takes an interest in his success because she cares about him. She cares about him too much. An ugly emotion with a bitter sting rises in my chest. It’s jealousy, a new feeling, one that I’ve only ever felt around her—and I don’t like it.
“Christian Grey?” A guy dressed like a vagrant thrusts a camera in my face, interrupting my dark thoughts. “Can I have a picture, sir?”
I want to tell him to fuck off but decide to be polite. I don’t want Sam, my publicity guy, dealing with a press complaint.
“Sure.” I reach out and pull Ana to my side. I want everyone to know she’s mine; if she’ll have me.
Don’t get ahead of yourself, Grey.
The photographer takes a few snaps. “Mr. Grey, thank you.” At least he sounds appreciative. “Miss…?” he asks, wanting to know her name.
“Ana Steele,” she answers, shyly.
“Thank you, Miss Steele.” He slithers off and Anastasia steps out of my grasp. I’m disappointed to let her go and fist my hands to resist the urge to touch her again.
She peers at me. “I looked for pictures of you with dates on the Internet. There aren’t any. That’s why Kate thought you were gay.”
“That explains your inappropriate question.” I can’t help smiling as I remember her awkwardness at our first meeting: her lack of interview skills, her questions.
Are you gay, Mr. Grey?
And my annoyance.
That seems so long ago. I shake my head and continue. “No—I don’t do dates, Anastasia, only with you. But you know that.”
And I’d like many, many more.
“So you never took your”—she lowers her voice and glances over her shoulder to check that no one’s listening—“subs out?” She blanches at the word, embarrassed.
“Sometimes. Not on dates. Shopping, you know.” Those occasional trips were just a distraction, maybe a reward for good submissive behavior. The one woman I’ve wanted to share more with…is Ana. “Just you, Anastasia,” I whisper, and I want to plead my case, ask her about my proposition, see how she feels, and if she’ll take me back.
However, the gallery is too public a setting. Her cheeks turn that delicious pink that I love, and she stares down at her hands. I hope it’s because she likes what I’m saying, but I can’t be sure. I need to get her out of here and on her own. Then we can talk seriously and eat. The sooner we’ve seen the boy’s work, the sooner we can leave.
“Your friend here seems more of a landscape man, not portraits. Let’s look around.” I hold out my hand, and to my delight, she takes it.
We stroll through the gallery, stopping briefly at each photograph. Though I resent the boy and the feelings he inspires in Ana, I have to admit he’s quite good. We turn the corner—and stop.
There she is. Seven full-blown portraits of Anastasia Steele. She looks jaw-droppingly beautiful, natural, and relaxed—laughing, scowling, pouting, pensive, amused, and in one of them, wistful and sad. As I scrutinize the detail in each photograph, I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that
wants to be much more than her friend. “Seems I’m not the only one,” I mutter. The photographs are his homage to her—his love letters—and they’re all over the gallery walls for any random asshole to ogle.
Ana is staring at them in stunned silence, as surprised as I am to see them. Well, there’s no way anyone else is having these. I want the pictures. I hope they’re for sale.
“Excuse me.” I abandon Ana for a moment and head to the reception desk.
“May I help you?” the woman who greeted us when we arrived asks.
Ignoring her fluttering eyelashes and provocative, overly red smile, I inquire, “The seven portraits you have hanging at the back, are they for sale?”
A look of disappointment flits across her face but resolves into a broad smile. “The Anastasia collection? Stunning work.”
“Of course they’re for sale. Let me check the prices,” she gushes.
“I want them all.” And I reach for my wallet.
“All of them?” She sounds surprised.
“The collection is fourteen thousand dollars.”
“I’d like them delivered as soon as possible.”
“But they’re due to hang for the duration of the exhibition,” she says.
I give her my full-kilowatt smile, and she adds, flustered, “But I’m sure we can arrange something.” She fumbles with my credit card as she swipes it.
When I return to Ana, I find a blond dude chatting with her, trying his luck. “These photographs are terrific,” he says. I place a territorial hand on her elbow and give him my best fuck-off-now glare. “You’re a lucky guy,” he adds, taking a step back.
“That I am,” I answer, dismissing him as I usher Ana over to the wall.
“Did you just buy one of these?” Ana nods toward the portraits.
“One of these?” I scoff.
One? Are you serious?
“You bought more than one?”
“I bought them all, Anastasia.” And I know I sound condescending, but the thought of someone else owning and enjoying these photographs is out of the question. Her lips part in astonishment, and I try not to let it distract me. “I don’t want some stranger ogling you in the privacy of their home.”
“You’d rather it was you?” she counters.
Her response, though unexpected, is entertaining; she’s admonishing me. “Frankly, yes,” I respond in kind.
“Pervert,” she mouths, and bites her lip, I suspect to suppress a laugh.
Lord, she’s challenging and funny and right.
“Can’t argue with that assessment, Anastasia.”
“I’d discuss it further with you, but I’ve signed an NDA.” With a haughty look, she turns to study the pictures once more.
And she’s doing it again: laughing at me and trivializing my lifestyle. Christ, I’d like to put her in her place—preferably under me or on her knees. I lean in closer and whisper in her ear, “What I’d like to do to your smart mouth.”
“You’re very rude.” She’s scandalized, her expression prim, while the tips of her ears turn a fetching pink.
Oh, baby, that’s old news.
I glance back at the pictures. “You look very relaxed in these photographs, Anastasia. I don’t see you like that very often.”
She examines her fingers once more, hesitating as if she’s contemplating what to say. I don’t know what she’s thinking, so, reaching forward, I tilt her head up. She gasps as my fingers make contact with her chin.
Again, that sound; I feel it in my groin.
“I want you that relaxed with me.” I sound hopeful.
Damn it. Too hopeful.
“You have to stop intimidating me if you want that,” she retorts, surprising me with her depth of feeling.
“You have to learn to communicate and tell me how you feel!” I snap back.
Shit, are we doing this here, now?
I want to do this in private. She clears her throat and draws herself up to full height.
“Christian, you wanted me as a submissive,” she says, keeping her voice down. “That’s where the problem lies. It’s in the definition of a submissive—you e-mailed it to me once.” She pauses, glaring at me. “I think the synonyms were, and I quote, ‘compliant, pliant, amenable, passive, tractable, resigned, patient, docile, tame, subdued.’ I wasn’t supposed to look at you. Not talk to you, unless you gave me permission to do so. What do you expect?”
We need to discuss this in private! Why is she doing this here?
“It’s very confusing being with you,” she continues, in full flow. “You don’t want me to defy you, but then you like my ‘smart mouth.’ You want obedience except when you don’t so that you can punish me. I just don’t know which way is up when I’m with you.”
Okay, I can see that could be confusing—however, I do not want to discuss it here. We need to leave.
“Good point well made, as usual, Miss Steele.” My tone is arctic. “Come, let’s go eat.”
“We’ve only been here for half an hour.”
“You’ve seen the photos. You’ve spoken to the boy.”
“His name is José,” she asserts, louder this time.
“You’ve spoken to
—the man who, if I am not mistaken, was trying to push his tongue into your mouth the last time I met him, while you were drunk and ill.” I grit my teeth.
“He’s never hit me,” she retaliates with fury in her eyes.
What the hell?
want to do this now
I can’t believe it.
She fucking asked me how bad it could get!
Anger erupts like Mount St. Helens deep in my chest. “That’s a low blow, Anastasia.” I’m seething. Her face reddens, and I don’t know if it’s from embarrassment or anger. I run my hands through my hair to prevent myself from grabbing her and dragging her outside so we can continue this discussion in private. I take a deep breath.
“I’m taking you for something to eat. You’re fading away in front of me. Find the boy, say good-bye.” My tone is clipped as I struggle to control my temper, but she doesn’t move.
“Please, can we stay longer?”
“No. Go. Now. Say good-bye.” I manage not to shout. I recognize that stubborn, mulish set to her mouth. She’s mad as hell, and in spite of all I’ve been through over the last few days, I don’t give a shit. We are leaving if I have to pick her up and carry her. She gives me a withering look and turns with a sharp spin, her hair flying so that it hits my shoulder. She stalks off to find him.
As she moves away I struggle to recover my equilibrium. What is it about her that presses all my buttons? I want to scold her, spank her, and fuck her. Here. Now. And in that order.
I scan the room. The boy—no, Rodriguez—is standing with a flock of female admirers. He notices Ana, and, forgetting his fans, he greets her like she’s the center of his whole goddamn universe. He listens intently to everything she has to say, then sweeps her into his arms, spinning her around.
Get your fat paws off my girl.
She glances at me, then weaves her hands into his hair and presses her cheek to his and whispers something in his ear. They continue talking. Close. His arms around her. And he’s basking in her fucking light.
Before I’m even aware that I’m doing it, I’m striding over, ready to rip him limb from limb.
Fortunately for him, he releases her as I approach.
“Don’t be a stranger, Ana. Oh, Mr. Grey, good evening,” the boy mumbles, sheepish and a little intimidated.
“Mr. Rodriguez, very impressive. I’m sorry
can’t stay longer, but
need to head back to Seattle. Anastasia?” I take her hand.
“Bye, José. Congratulations again.” She leans away from me, gives Rodriguez a tender kiss on his reddening cheek, and I’m going to have a coronary. It takes all my self-control not to haul her over my shoulder. Instead I drag her by the hand to the front door and out onto the street. She’s stumbling behind me, trying to keep up, but I don’t care.
Right now. I just want to—
There’s an alley. I hurry us into it, and before I know what I’m doing I’ve pressed her against the wall. I grab her face between my hands, pinning her body with mine as rage and desire mix in a heady, explosive cocktail. I capture her lips with mine and our teeth clash, but then my tongue is in her mouth. She tastes of cheap wine and delicious, sweet, sweet Ana.
Oh, this mouth.
I have missed this mouth.
She ignites around me. Her fingers are in my hair, pulling hard. She moans into my mouth, giving me more access, and she’s kissing me back, her passion unleashed, her tongue entwined with mine. Tasting. Taking. Giving.
Her hunger is unexpected. Desire bursts through my body, like a forest fire licking through dry tinder. I’m so aroused—I want her now, here, in this alley. And what I’d intended as a punishing I-own-you kiss becomes something else.
She wants this, too.
She’s missed this, too.
And it’s more than arousing.
I groan in response, undone.
With one hand, I hold her at the nape of her neck as we kiss. My free hand travels down her body, and I reacquaint myself with her curves: her breast, her waist, her ass, her thigh. She moans as my fingers find the hem of her dress and start tugging it higher. My goal is to pull it up, fuck her here. Make her mine, again.
The feel of her.
It’s intoxicating, and I want her like I’ve never wanted her before.
In the distance and through the fog of my lust, I hear a police siren wail.
No! No! Grey!
Not like this. Get a grip.
I pull back, gazing down at her, and I’m panting and mad as hell.
“You. Are. Mine!” I growl, and push myself away from her, as my reason returns. “For the love of God, Ana.” I bend over, hands on my knees, trying to catch my breath and calm my raging body. I’m painfully hard for her right now.
Has anyone ever affected me like this? Ever?
I nearly fucked her in a back alley.
This is jealousy. This is what it feels like: my insides gutted and raw, my self-control absent. I don’t like it. I don’t like it one bit.
“I’m sorry,” she says, hoarse.
“You should be. I know what you’re doing. Do you want the photographer, Anastasia? He obviously has feelings for you.”
“No.” Her voice is soft and breathless. “He’s just a friend.” At least she sounds contrite, and it goes some way toward pacifying me.
“I have spent all my adult life trying to avoid any extreme emotion. Yet you…you bring out feelings in me that are completely alien. It’s very…” Words fail me. I cannot find the vocabulary to describe how I feel. I’m out of control and at a loss. “Unsettling” is the best I can manage. “I like control, Ana, and around you, that just”—I stand and look down at her—“evaporates.”
Her eyes are wide with carnal promise, and her hair is mussed and sexy, falling to her breasts. I rub the back of my neck, thankful that I’ve recovered some semblance of self-control.