Read Darker Online

Authors: E L James



Fifty Shades of Grey

Fifty Shades Darker

Fifty Shades Freed




Copyright © 2011, 2017 by Fifty Shades Ltd.

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York, and distributed in Canada by Penguin Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.

Vintage and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House LLC.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Portions of this book, including significant portions of the dialogue and e-mail exchanges, have previously appeared in the author’s prior works.

ISBN 9780385543910

Ebook ISBN 9780385543989

Cover design by Sqicedragon and Megan Wilson

Cover photograph: © Petar Djordjevic / Penguin Random House




For my readers.

Thank you for all that you’ve done for me.

This book is for you.


Thanks to:

Everyone at Vintage, for your dedication and professionalism. I am constantly inspired by your expertise, good humor, and love for the written word.

Anne Messitte, for your faith in me. I will forever be indebted to you.

Tony Chirico, Russell Perreault, and Paul Bogaards for your invaluable support.

The wonderful production, editorial, and design team who brought this project together: Megan Wilson, Lydia Buechler, Kathy Hourigan, Andy Hughes, Chris Zucker, and Amy Brosey.

Niall Leonard, for your love, support, and guidance, and for being less grumpy.

Valerie Hoskins, my agent—thank you for everything every day.

Kathleen Blandino, for the pre-read, and for all things Web.

Brian Brunetti, once again, for your invaluable insight into helicopter accidents.

Laura Edmonston for sharing your knowledge of the Pacific Northwest.

Professor Chris Collins, for enlightening me about soil science.

Ruth, Debra, Helena, and Liv for the encouragement and word challenges, and for making me get this done.

Dawn and Daisy, for your friendship and advice.

Andrea, BG, Becca, Bee, Britt, Catherine, Jada, Jill, Kellie, Kelly, Leis, Liz, Nora, Raizie, QT, Susi—how many years is it now? And we’re still going strong. Thank you for the Americanisms.

And all my author and book world friends—you know who you are—you inspire me every day.

And lastly, thank you to my children. I love you unconditionally. I will always be so proud of the wonderful young men you have become. You bring me such joy.

Stay golden. Both of you.

, J
9, 2011

sit. Waiting. My heart is thumping. It’s 5:36 and I stare through the privacy glass of my Audi at the front door of her building. I know I’m early, but I’ve been looking forward to this moment all day.

I’m going to see her.

I shift in my seat in the rear of the car. The atmosphere feels stifling, and though I’m trying to remain calm, the anticipation and anxiety are knotting my stomach and pressing down on my chest. Taylor sits in the driver’s seat, staring straight ahead, wordless, looking his usual composed self, while I can barely breathe. It’s irritating.

Damn it. Where is she?

She’s inside—inside
Seattle Independent Publishing. Set back beyond a wide, open sidewalk, the building is shabby and in need of renovation; the company’s name is etched haphazardly in the glass, and the frosted effect on the window is peeling. The business behind those closed doors could be an insurance company or an accounting firm—they’re not displaying their wares. Well, that’s something I can rectify when I take control. SIP is mine. Almost. I’ve signed the revised heads of agreement.

Taylor clears his throat and his eyes dart to mine in the rearview mirror. “I’ll wait outside, sir,” he says, surprising me, and he climbs out of the car before I can stop him.

Maybe he’s more affected by my tension than I thought. Am I that obvious? Maybe
tense. But why? Maybe it’s because he’s had to deal with my ever-changing moods this past week, and I know I’ve not been easy.

But today has been different. Hopeful. It’s the first productive day I’ve had since she left me, or so it feels. My optimism has driven me through my meetings with enthusiasm. Ten hours until I see her. Nine. Eight. Seven…My patience has been tested by the clock as it ticks closer to my reunion with Miss Anastasia Steele.

And now that I’m sitting here, alone and waiting, the determination and confidence I’ve enjoyed all day are evaporating.

Perhaps she’s changed her mind.

Will it be a reunion? Or am I just the free ride to Portland?

I check my watch again.


Shit. Why does time move so slowly?

I contemplate sending her an e-mail to let her know I’m outside, but as I fumble for my phone, I realize I don’t want to take my eyes off the front door. Leaning back, I run through her recent e-mails in my mind. I know them by heart, all of them friendly and concise but without a hint that she’s been missing me.

Maybe I
the free ride.

I dismiss the thought and stare at the doorway, willing her to appear.

Anastasia Steele, I’m waiting.

The door opens and my heart soars into overdrive but then quickly stutters with disappointment. It’s not her.


She has always kept me waiting. A humorless smile tugs at my lips: waiting at Clayton’s, at The Heathman after the photo shoot, and again when I sent her the Thomas Hardy books.


I wonder if she still has them. She wanted to give them back to me; she wanted to give them to a charity.

I don’t want anything that will remind me of you.

The image of Ana leaving surfaces in my mind’s eye: her sad, ashen face stricken with hurt and confusion. The memory is unwelcome. Painful.

I made her that
miserable. I took everything too far, too quickly. And it fills me with a despair that has become all too familiar since she left. Closing my eyes, I try to center myself, but I’m confronted by my deepest, darkest fear: she’s met someone else. She’s sharing her little white bed and her beautiful body with some fucking stranger.

Damn it, Grey.
Stay positive.

Don’t go there. All is not lost. You’ll be seeing her shortly. Your plans are in place. You are going to win her back. Opening my eyes, I stare at the front door through the window, my mood now as dark as the Audi’s tinted glass. More people leave the building, but still no Ana.

Where is she?

Taylor is pacing outside and glancing toward the front door. Christ, he looks as nervous as I feel.
What the hell is it to him?

My watch says 5:43. She’ll be out in a moment. I take a deep breath and tug at my cuffs, then try to straighten my tie, only to find I’m not wearing one.
Raking my hand through my hair, I try to dismiss my doubts, but they continue to plague me.
Am I just a free ride to her? Will she have missed me? Will she want me back? Is there someone else?
I have no idea. This is worse than waiting for her in the Marble Bar, and the irony is not lost on me. I thought that was the biggest deal I’d ever negotiate with her and that didn’t turn out the way I expected. Nothing turns out as I expect with Miss Anastasia Steele. Panic knots my stomach once more. Today, I have to negotiate a bigger deal.

I want her back.

She said she loved me…

My heart rate spikes in response to the adrenaline that floods my body.

No. No. Don’t think about that. She can’t feel that way about me.

Calm down, Grey. Focus.

I glance once more at the entrance to Seattle Independent Publishing and she’s there, walking toward me



Shock sucks the breath from my body like a kick to the solar plexus. Beneath a black jacket she’s wearing one of my favorite dresses, the purple one, and black high-heeled boots. Her hair, burnished by the early-evening sun, sways in the breeze as she moves. But it’s not her clothing or her hair that holds my attention. Her face is pale, almost translucent. There are dark circles beneath her eyes, and she’s thinner.


Guilt lances through me.


She’s suffered, too.

My concern at her appearance turns to anger.

No. Fury.

She hasn’t been eating. She’s lost, what, five or six pounds in the last few days? She glances at some random guy behind her and he gives her a broad smile. He’s a good-looking son of a bitch, full of himself
. Asshole.
Their carefree exchange only fuels my rage. He watches her with blatant male appreciation as she walks toward the car, and my wrath increases with each of her steps.

Taylor opens the door and offers her his hand to help her climb inside. And suddenly she is sitting beside me.

“When did you last eat?” I snap, struggling to keep my composure. Her blue eyes peer up at me, stripping me bare and leaving me as raw as they did the first time I met her.

“Hello, Christian. Yes, it’s nice to see you, too,” she says.

What. The. Fuck.

“I don’t want your smart mouth now. Answer me.”

She stares at her hands in her lap, so that I’ve no idea what she’s thinking, then trots out some lame excuse about eating a yogurt and a banana.

That’s not eating!

I try, really try, to keep a rein on my temper.

“When did you last have a real meal?” I press her, but she ignores me, looking out the window. Taylor pulls away from the curb, and Ana waves to the prick who followed her out of the building.

“Who’s that?”

“My boss.”

So that’s Jack Hyde. I recall the employee details I flipped through this morning: from Detroit, scholarship to Princeton, worked his way up at a publishing firm in New York but has moved on every few years, working his way across the country. He never retains an assistant—they don’t last more than three months. He’s on my watch list, and I’ll have my security adviser Welch find out more.

Focus on the matter at hand, Grey.

“Well? Your last meal?”

“Christian, that really is none of your concern,” she whispers.

“Whatever you do concerns me. Tell me.” Don’t write me off, Anastasia.

I’m the free ride.

She sighs in frustration and rolls her eyes to piss me off. And I see it—a soft smile pulling at the corner of her mouth. She’s trying not to laugh. She’s trying not to laugh
at me.
After all the heartache I’ve suffered, it’s so refreshing that it cracks through my anger. It’s so Ana. I find myself mirroring her, and I try to mask my smile.

“Well?” My tone is much gentler.

Pasta alla Vongole, last Friday,” she answers, her voice subdued.

Jesus H. Christ, she’s not eaten since our last meal together! I want to pull her across my knee, right now, here in the back of the SUV—but I know I can’t ever touch her like that again.

What do I do with her?

She looks down, examining her hands, her face paler and sadder than it was before. And I drink her in, trying to fathom what to do. An unwelcome emotion blooms in my chest, threatening to overwhelm me but I push it aside. As I study her it becomes achingly clear that my biggest fear is unfounded. I know she didn’t get drunk and meet someone. Looking at how she is now, I know she’s been on her own, tucked up in her bed, weeping her heart out. The thought is at once comforting and distressing. I’m responsible for her misery.


I’m the monster. I did this to her. How can I ever win her back?

“I see.” The words feel inadequate. My task suddenly feels too daunting. She will never want me back.

Get a grip, Grey.

I damp down my fear and make a plea. “You look like you’ve lost at least five pounds, possibly more since then. Please eat, Anastasia.” I’m helpless. What else can I say?

She sits still, lost in her own thoughts, staring straight ahead, and I have time to study her profile. She’s as elfin and sweet and as beautiful as I remember. I want to reach out and stroke her cheek. Feel how soft her skin is…check that she’s real. I turn my body toward her, itching to touch her.

“How are you?” I ask, because I want to hear her voice.

“If I told you I was fine, I’d be lying.”

I’m right. She’s been suffering—and it’s all my fault. But her words give me a modicum of hope. Perhaps she’s missed me. Maybe? Encouraged, I cling to that thought. “Me, too. I miss you.” I reach for her hand because I can’t live another minute without touching her. Her hand feels small and ice-cold engulfed in the warmth of mine.

“Christian. I—” She stops, her voice cracking, but she doesn’t pull her hand from mine.

“Ana, please. We need to talk.”

“Christian. I…please. I’ve cried so much,” she whispers, and her words, and the sight of her fighting back tears, pierce what’s left of my heart.

“Oh, baby, no.” I tug her hand and before she can protest I lift her into my lap, circling her with my arms.

Oh, the feel of her.

“I’ve missed you so much, Anastasia.” She’s too light, too fragile, and I want to shout in frustration, but instead I bury my nose in her hair, overwhelmed by her intoxicating scent. It’s reminiscent of happier times: An orchard in the fall. Laughter at home
Bright eyes, full of humor and mischief…and desire. My sweet, sweet Ana.


At first, she’s stiff with resistance, but after a beat she relaxes against me, her head resting on my shoulder. Emboldened, I take a risk and, closing my eyes, I kiss her hair. She doesn’t struggle out of my hold, and it’s a relief. I’ve yearned for this woman. But I must be careful. I don’t want her to bolt again. I hold her, enjoying the feel of her in my arms and this simple moment of tranquility.

But it’s a brief interlude—Taylor reaches the Seattle downtown helipad in record time.

“Come.” With reluctance, I lift her off my lap. “We’re here.”

Perplexed eyes search mine.

“Helipad—on the top of this building.” How did she think we were getting to Portland? It would take at least three hours to drive. Taylor opens her door and I climb out on my side.

“I should give you back your handkerchief,” she says to Taylor with a coy smile.

“Keep it, Miss Steele, with my best wishes.”

What the hell is going on between them?

“Nine?” I interrupt, not just to remind him what time he’ll pick us up in Portland, but to stop him from talking to Ana.

“Yes, sir,” he says quietly.

Damn right.
She’s my girl. Handkerchiefs are my business, not his.

Flashes of her vomiting on the ground, me holding back her hair, run through my head. I gave her my handkerchief then. I never got it back. And later that night I watched her sleep beside me. Perhaps she still has it. Perhaps she still uses it.

Stop. Now. Grey.

Taking her hand—the chill has gone, but her hand is still cool—I lead her into the building. As we reach the elevator, I recall our encounter at The Heathman. That
first kiss.

Yeah. That first kiss.

The thought wakes my body.

But the doors open, distracting me, and reluctantly I release her to usher her inside.

The elevator is small, and we’re no longer touching. But I sense her.

All of her.

Here. Now.

I swallow.

Is it because she’s so near? Darkening eyes look up at mine.

Oh, Ana.

Her proximity is arousing. She inhales sharply and looks at the floor.

“I feel it, too.” I reach for her hand again and caress her knuckles with my thumb. She looks up at me, her fathomless eyes clouding with desire.

Fuck. I want her.

She bites her lip.

“Please don’t bite your lip, Anastasia.” My voice is low, full of longing. Will I always want her like this? I want to kiss her, press her into the elevator wall like I did during our first kiss. I want to fuck her here, and make her mine again. She blinks, her lips gently parted, and I suppress a groan. How does she do this? Derail me with a look? I am used to control—and I’m practically drooling over her because her teeth are pressing into her lip. “You know what it does to me.” And right now, baby, I want to take you in this elevator, but I don’t think you’ll let me.

The doors slide open and the rush of cold air brings me back to the now. We’re on the roof, and although the day has been warm, the wind has picked up. Anastasia shivers beside me. I wrap my arm around her and she huddles in to my side. She feels too slight, but her petite frame fits perfectly under my arm.

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