Read Darker Online

Authors: E L James

Darker (5 page)

My phone buzzes and I scan the text. Taylor’s arrived. The waiter gives me my card back and disappears.

“Come. Taylor’s outside.”

We both stand and I take her hand. “I don’t want to lose you, Anastasia,” I murmur, and raise her hand and brush my lips against her knuckles. Her breathing accelerates.

Oh, that sound.

I glance at her face. Her lips are parted, cheeks pink and eyes wide. The sight fills me with hope and desire. I stifle my impulses and lead her through the restaurant and outside, where Taylor is waiting at the curb in the Q7. It occurs to me that Ana might be reluctant to talk if he’s in front.

I have an idea. Opening the rear door, I usher her in, and walk around to the driver’s side. Taylor gets out to open the door for me.

“Good evening, Taylor. Do you have your iPod and headphones?”

“Yes, sir, never leave home without them.”

“Great. Use them on the way home.”

“Of course, sir.”

“What will you listen to?”

“Puccini, sir.”

“Tosca?”

“La Bohème.”

“Good choice.” I smile. As ever, he surprises me. I’d always assumed his musical tastes leaned toward country and rock. Taking a deep breath, I climb into the car. I’m about to negotiate the deal of my life.

I want her back.

Taylor presses play on the car’s sound system and the stirring notes from Rachmaninov swell quietly in the background. He regards me for a second in the mirror and pulls out into the light evening traffic.

Anastasia is watching me when I turn to face her. “As I was saying, Anastasia, I have a proposition for you.”

She looks anxiously at Taylor, as I knew she would.

“Taylor can’t hear you.”

“What?” She looks perplexed.

“Taylor,” I call. Taylor doesn’t respond. I call him again, then lean over and tap his shoulder. He removes an earbud.

“Yes, sir?”

“Thank you, Taylor. It’s okay—resume your listening.”

“Sir.”

“Happy now? He’s listening to his iPod. Puccini. Forget he’s here. I do.”

“Did you deliberately ask him to do that?”

“Yes.”

She blinks in surprise. “Okay…your proposition,” she says, hesitant and apprehensive.

I’m nervous, too, baby. Here goes.
Don’t blow this, Grey.

How to begin?

I take a deep breath. “Let me ask you something first. Do you want a regular vanilla relationship, with no kinky fuckery at all?”

“Kinky fuckery?” she squeaks in disbelief.

“Kinky fuckery.”

“I can’t believe you said that.” She looks anxiously at Taylor again.

“Well, I did. Answer me.”

“I like your kinky fuckery,” she whispers.

Oh, baby, so do I.

I’m relieved. Step one…okay.
Keep cool, Grey.

“That’s what I thought. So what don’t you like?”

She’s silent for a moment, and I know she’s scrutinizing me in the light and shadows of the intermittent street lamps. “The threat of cruel and unusual punishment,” she says.

“What does that mean?”

“Well, you have all those—” She stops, glancing at Taylor once more, and her voice lowers. “Things in your playroom, the canes, and whips, and they frighten the living daylights out of me. I don’t want you to use them on me.”

This, I have worked out for myself.

“Okay, so no whips or canes. Or belts, for that matter,” I add, unable to keep the irony out of my voice.

“Are you attempting to redefine the hard limits?” she asks.

“Not as such. I’m just trying to understand you—get a clearer picture of what you do and don’t like.”

“Fundamentally, Christian, it’s your joy in inflicting pain that’s difficult for me to handle. And the idea that you’ll do it because I have crossed some arbitrary line.”

Hell.
She knows me. She has seen the monster. I’m not going there, or I will blow this deal. I ignore her first comment and concentrate on her second point. “But it’s not arbitrary—the rules are written down.”

“I don’t want a set of rules.”

“None at all?”

Fuck—she might touch me.
How can I protect myself from that? And suppose she does something stupid that puts herself at risk?

“No rules,” she states, shaking her head for emphasis.

Okay, million-dollar question.

“But you don’t mind if I spank you?”

“Spank me with what?”

“This.” I hold up my hand.

She shifts in her seat, and a silent, sweet joy unfurls deep in my gut.
Oh, baby, I love it when you squirm.

“No, not really. Especially with those silver balls…”

My cock stirs at the thought.
Damn.
I cross my legs. “Yes, that was fun.”

“More than fun,” she adds.

“So you can deal with some pain.” I can’t keep the hope out of my voice.

“Yes, I suppose.” She shrugs.

Okay. So we may be able to structure a relationship around this.

Deep breath, Grey, give her the terms.

“Anastasia, I want to start again. Do the vanilla thing and then maybe, once you trust me more—and I trust you to be honest and to communicate with me—we could move on and do some of the things that I like to do.”

That’s it.

Fuck.
My heart rate escalates; blood thrums through my body, pounding past my eardrums as I wait for her reaction. My well-being hangs in the balance. And she says…nothing! She stares at me as we pass under a streetlight and I see her clearly. She’s assessing me. Her eyes still impossibly large in her beautiful, thinner, sadder face.

Oh, Ana.

“But what about punishments?” she says finally.

I close my eyes. It’s not a no. “No punishments. None.”

“And the rules?”

“No rules.”

“None at all? But you have needs…” Her voice trails off.

“I need you more, Anastasia. These last few days have been hell. All my instincts tell me to let you go, tell me I don’t deserve you. “Those photos the boy took—I can see how he sees you. You look untroubled and beautiful, not that you’re not beautiful now, but here you sit. I see your pain. It’s so hard knowing that I’m the one who has made you feel this way.”

It’s killing me, Ana.

“But I’m a selfish man. I’ve wanted you since you fell into my office. You are exquisite, honest, warm, strong, witty, beguilingly innocent; the list is endless. I am in awe of you. I want you, and the thought of anyone else having you is like a knife twisting in my dark soul.”

Fuck. Flowery, Grey! Real flowery.

I’m like a man possessed. I’m going to scare her off.

“Christian, why do you think you have a dark soul?” she cries out, totally surprising me. “I would never say that. Sad maybe, but you’re a good man. I can see that—you’re generous, you’re kind, and you’ve never lied to me. And I haven’t tried very hard. Last Saturday was such a shock to my system. It was my wake-up call. I realized that you’d been easy on me, and that I couldn’t be the person you wanted me to be. Then, after I left, it dawned on me that the physical pain you inflicted was not as bad as the pain of losing you. I do want to please you, but it’s hard.”

“You please me all the time.” When will she understand this? “How often do I have to tell you that?”

“I never know what you’re thinking.”

She doesn’t? Baby, you read me like one of your books; except I’m not the hero. I’ll never be the hero.

“Sometimes you’re so closed off, like an island state,” she continues. “You intimidate me. That’s why I keep quiet. I don’t know which way your mood is going to go. It swings from north to south and back again in a nanosecond. It’s confusing and you won’t let me touch you, and I want so much to show you how much I love you.”

Anxiety bursts in my chest and my heart starts hammering. She said it again; the three potent words I cannot bear. And touching. No. No.
No.
She can’t touch me. But before I can respond, before the darkness takes hold, she unfastens her seatbelt and crawls across the seat and into my lap, ambushing me. She places her hands on either side of my head, staring into my eyes, and I stop breathing.

“I love you, Christian Grey,” she says. “And you’re prepared to do all this for me. I’m the one who is undeserving. And I’m just sorry that I can’t do all those things for you. Maybe with time—I don’t know—but yes, I accept your proposition. Where do I sign?” She curls her arms around my neck and hugs me, her warm cheek against mine.

I can’t believe what I’m hearing.

Anxiety turns to joy. It expands in my chest, lighting me up from head to toe, spreading warmth in its wake. She’s going to try. I get her back. I don’t deserve her, but I get her back. I wrap my arms around her and hold her tightly, burying my nose in her fragrant hair, as relief and a kaleidoscope of colorful emotions fill the void that I’ve carried inside me since she left.

“Oh, Ana,” I whisper, and I hold her, too dazed and too…replete to say anything else. She snuggles into my arms, her head on my shoulder, and we listen to the Rachmaninov. I go over her words.

She loves me.

I test the phrase in my head and what’s left of my heart, and swallow the knot of fear that forms in my throat as those words ring through me.

I can do this.

I can live with this.

I must. I need to protect her and her vulnerable heart.

I take a deep breath.

I can do this.

Except the touching. I can’t do that. I have to make her understand—manage her expectations. Gently I stroke her back. “Touching is a hard limit for me, Anastasia.”

“I know. I wish I understood why.” Her breath tickles my neck.

Shall I tell her? Why would she want to know this shit? My shit? Maybe I can hint at it, give her a clue.

“I had a horrific childhood. One of the crack whore’s pimps…”

“There you are, you little shit.”

No. No. No. Not the burn.

“Mommy! Mommy!”

“She can’t hear you, you fucking maggot.” He grabs my hair and pulls me out from under the kitchen table.

“Ow. Ow. Ow.”

He’s smoking. The smell. Cigarettes. It’s a dirty smell. Like old and nasty. He’s dirty. Like trash. Like drains. He drinks brown licker. From a bottle.

“And even if she could, she doesn’t give a fuck,” he shouts. He always shouts.

His hand hits me across my face. And again. And again. No. No.

I fight him. But he laughs. And takes a puff. The end of the cigarette shines bright red and orange.

“The burn,” he says.

No. No.

The pain. The pain. The pain. The smell.

Burn. Burn. Burn.

Pain. No. No. No.

I howl.

Howl.

“Mommy! Mommy!”

He laughs and laughs. He has two teeth gone.

I shudder as my memories and nightmares float together like smoke from his discarded cigarette, fogging my brain, dragging me back to a time of fear and impotence.

I tell Ana I remember it all and she tightens her hold on me. Her cheek on my neck. Her soft, warm skin against mine, bringing me back to the now.

“Was she abusive? Your mother?” Ana’s voice is hoarse.

“Not that I remember. She was neglectful. She didn’t protect me from her pimp.”

She was a sad excuse and he was a sick fuck.

“I think it was me who looked after her. When she finally killed herself, it took four days for someone to raise the alarm and find us. I remember that.” I close my eyes and see vague, muted images of my mother slumped on the floor, me covering her with my blanket and curling up beside her.

Anastasia gasps. “That’s pretty fucked up.”

“Fifty shades.”

She kisses my neck, a soft, tender press of her lips onto my skin. And I know it’s not pity she’s offering. It’s comfort; maybe even understanding. My sweet, compassionate Ana.

I tighten my hold on her and kiss her hair as she nestles in my arms.

Baby, it was a long time ago.

My exhaustion catches up with me. Several sleepless nights plagued with nightmares have taken their toll. I’m tired. I want to stop thinking. She’s my dreamcatcher. I never had nightmares when she was sleeping at my side. Leaning back, I close my eyes, saying nothing, because I have nothing more to say. I listen to the music, and when it’s finished, to her soft, even breathing. She’s asleep. She’s weary. Like me. I realize I can’t spend the night with her. She’ll get no sleep if I do. I hold her, enjoying her weight on me, honored that she can sleep on me. I can’t help my self-satisfied grin. I’ve done it. I’ve won her back. Now all I have to do is keep her, which will be challenging enough.

My first vanilla relationship—who would have thought? Closing my eyes, I imagine the look on Elena’s face when I tell her. She’ll have plenty to say, she always has…

I can tell by the way you’re standing that you have something to tell me.

I dare a quick peek at Elena as her scarlet lips curl into a smile and she crosses her arms, flogger in hand.

Yes, Ma’am.

You may speak.

I have a place at Harvard.

Her eyes flash.

Ma’am,
I add quickly, and stare down at my toes.

I see.
She walks around me as I stand naked in her basement. The chill spring air caresses my skin, but it’s the anticipation of what’s to come that makes each of my hair follicles stand on end. That, and the smell of her expensive perfume. My body begins to respond.

She laughs.
Control!
she snaps, and the flogger bites across my thighs. And I try, really try, to bring my body to heel.

Though perhaps you should be rewarded for good behavior,
she purrs. And she hits me again, across my chest this time, but soft, more playful.
It’s quite the achievement to get into Harvard, my dear, dear pet.
The flogger flies again, stinging my ass, and my legs quiver in response.

Hold still,
she warns. And I stand straight, waiting for the next blow.
So you’ll leave me,
she whispers, and the flogger strikes my back.

My eyes spring open and I glance at her in alarm.

No. Never.

Eyes down,
she commands.

And I stare at my feet as panic overwhelms me.

You’ll leave me and find some young college girl.

No. No.

She grabs my face, her nails biting into my skin.

You will.
Her ice-blue eyes burn into mine, scarlet lips twisted in a snarl.

Never, Ma’am.

She laughs and pushes me away and raises her hand.

But the blow never comes.

When I open my eyes, Ana stands before me. She caresses my cheek and smiles.
I love you,
she says.