Read Darker Online

Authors: E L James

Darker (7 page)

LATER, WE’RE SITTING AROUND
the table in my boardroom and Marco is running through the modified business plan for SIP and their contract stipulations following the signing of our revised heads of agreement yesterday.

“They want to embargo the acquisition news for a month,” he says. “Something about not freaking out their authors.”

“Really? Will their authors care?” I ask.

“This is a creative industry,” Ros says gently.

“Whatever.” And I want to roll my eyes.

“You and I have a call scheduled with Jeremy Roach, the owner, at four thirty today.”

“Good. We can hash out remaining details then.” My mind drifts to Anastasia. How is her day going? Has she rolled her eyes at anyone today? What are her work colleagues like? Her boss? I’ve asked Welch to investigate Jack Hyde; just reading Hyde’s employee file, I know there’s something odd about his career trajectory. He started in New York, and now he’s here. Something doesn’t add up. I need to know more about him, especially if Ana is working for him.

I’m also waiting for an update on Leila. Welch has nothing new to report on her whereabouts. It’s like she’s disappeared completely. I can only hope that wherever she is, she’s in a better place.

“Their e-mail monitoring is almost as stringent as ours,” Ros says, interrupting my reverie.

“So?” I ask. “Any company worth its equity has a rigorous e-mail policy.”

“It surprises me for such a small operation. All e-mails are checked by the HR function.”

I shrug. “I don’t have an issue with that.” Though I should warn Ana. “Let’s go through their liabilities.”

ONCE WE’VE DEALT WITH
SIP,
we move to the next item on the agenda. “We’re going to make a tentative inquiry about the shipyard in Taiwan,” Marco says.

“I don’t see what we’ve got to lose,” Ros agrees.

“My shirt and the goodwill of our workforce?”

“Christian, we don’t have to do it,” Ros says with a sigh.

“It makes financial sense. You know it. I know it. Let’s see how far we can run with this.”

My phone flashes, announcing an e-mail from Ana.

At last!

I’ve been so busy I haven’t managed to contact her since this morning, but she’s been hovering at the edge of my consciousness all day, like a guardian angel. My guardian angel. Ever present but not intrusive.

Mine.

Grey, get a grip.

As Ros lists next steps for the Taiwan project, I read Ana’s e-mail.

From:
Anastasia Steele

Subject:
Bored…

Date:
June 10 2011 16:05

To:
Christian Grey

Twiddling my thumbs.

How are you?

What are you doing?

Anastasia Steele

Assistant to Jack Hyde, Editor, SIP

Twiddling her thumbs? The thought makes me smile as I recall her fumbling with the tape recorder when she came to interview me.

Are you gay, Mr. Grey?

Ah, sweet, innocent Ana.

No. Not gay.

I love that she’s thinking about me and has taken time out of her day to make contact. It’s…distracting. An unfamiliar warmth seeps into my bones. It makes me uneasy. Really uneasy. Ignoring it, I quickly type a response.

From:
Christian Grey

Subject:
Your thumbs

Date:
June 10 2011 16:15

To:
Anastasia Steele

You should have come to work for me.

You wouldn’t be twiddling your thumbs.

I am sure I could put them to better use.

In fact, I can think of a number of options…

Fuck. Not now, Grey.

My eyes meet Ros’s, and I sense her disapproval.

“Urgent response required,” I tell her. She shares a look with Marco.

I am doing the usual humdrum mergers and acquisitions.

It’s all very dry.

Your e-mails at SIP are monitored.

Christian Grey

Distracted CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc.

I can’t wait to see her this evening, and she’s yet to e-mail where we’ll meet. It’s frustrating. But we’ve agreed to try our relationship her way, so I put my phone down and turn my attention back to my meeting.

Patience, Grey. Patience.

We’ve moved on to discuss
the mayor of Seattle’s visit to Grey House next week, an appointment I set up when I met him earlier this month.

“Is Sam on this?” Ros asks.

“Like a rash,” I respond. Sam never misses a PR opportunity.

“Okay. If you’re ready I’ll get Jeremy Roach on the line from SIP to go through those final details.”

“Let’s do it.”

BACK IN MY OUTER
office, Andrea’s replacement is applying yet more lipstick to her scarlet mouth. I don’t like it. And the color reminds me of Elena. One of the things I love about Ana is that she doesn’t cake herself in lipstick, or any other makeup for that matter. Hiding my disgust, and ignoring the new girl, I head into my office. I can’t even remember her name.

Fred’s revised proposal for
Kavanagh Media is open on my desktop, but I’m preoccupied and finding it hard to concentrate. Time is moving on and I’ve not heard from Anastasia; as ever, I’m waiting for Miss Steele. I check my e-mail once more.

Nothing.

I check my phone for texts.

Nothing.

What’s keeping her? I hope it’s not her boss.

There’s a knock on my door.

What now?

“Come in.”

Andrea’s replacement pokes her head around the door and,
ping,
there’s an e-mail, but it’s not from Ana.

“What?” I bark, trying to remember the woman’s name.

She’s unfazed. “I’m just about to leave, Mr. Grey. Mr. Taylor left this for you.” She holds up an envelope.

“Just leave it on the console there.”

“Do you need me for anything else?”

“No. Go. Thanks.” I give her a thin smile.

“Have a good weekend then, sir,” she offers, simpering.

Oh, I fully intend to.

I dismiss her, but she doesn’t leave. She pauses for a moment, and I realize she’s expecting something from me.

What?

“I’ll see you Monday,” she says with an annoying, nervous giggle.

“Yes. Monday. Shut the door behind you.”

Looking a little crestfallen, she does as she’s told.

What was that about?

I pick up the envelope from the console. It’s the key to Ana’s Audi, and written in Taylor’s tidy hand are the words:
Parked in allocated parking space at rear of apartment building.

Back at my desk, I turn my attention to my e-mails, and finally there’s one from Ana. I grin like the Cheshire Cat.

From:
Anastasia Steele

Subject:
You’ll Fit Right In

Date:
June 10 2011 17:36

To:
Christian Grey

We are going to a bar called Fifty’s.

The rich seam of humor that I could mine from this is endless.

I look forward to seeing you there, Mr. Grey.

A. x

Is this a reference to fifty shades?

Weird. Is she making fun of me?

Okay. Let’s have some fun with this.

From:
Christian Grey

Subject:
Hazards

Date:
June 10 2011 17:38

To:
Anastasia Steele

Mining is a very, very dangerous occupation.

Christian Grey

CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc.

Let’s see what she makes of that.

From:
Anastasia Steele

Subject:
Hazards?

Date:
June 10 2011 17:40

To:
Christian Grey

And your point is?

So obtuse, Anastasia? That’s not like you. But I don’t want to fight.

From:
Christian Grey

Subject:
Merely…

Date:
June 10 2011 17:42

To:
Anastasia Steele

Making an observation, Miss Steele.

I’ll see you shortly.

Sooners rather than laters, baby.

Christian Grey

CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc.

Now that she’s been in contact, I relax and concentrate on the Kavanagh proposal. It’s good. I send it back to Fred and tell him to send it on to Kavanagh. Idly I speculate whether Kavanagh Media might be ripe for a takeover. It’s a thought. I wonder what Ros and Marco would say. I shelve the idea for now and head down to the lobby, texting Taylor to let him know where I’m meeting Ana.

50’S IS A SPORTS
bar. It’s vaguely familiar, and I realize I’ve been here before with Elliot. But then Elliot is a jock, a real guy’s guy, who’s the life and soul of any party. This is his type of place, a shrine to team sports. I was too hotheaded to play on a team at any of my schools. I preferred more solitary pursuits like sculling and full-contact sports like kickboxing, where I could kick the shit out of someone…or have the shit kicked out of me.

Inside, it’s crowded with young office workers starting their weekends with a quick drink or five, and it takes me only two seconds to spot her by the bar.

Ana.

And he’s there.
Hyde.
Crowding her.

Asshole.

Her shoulders are tense. She’s obviously uncomfortable.

Fuck him.

With great effort I keep my walk casual, trying to maintain my cool. When I’m by her side, I drape my arm over her shoulder and pull her toward me, freeing her from his unwanted advances.

I kiss her, just behind her ear. “Hello, baby,” I whisper into her hair. She melts against me as the asshole stands taller, appraising me. I want to rip the “fuck you” expression off his rugged, smug face, but I deliberately ignore him to focus on my girl.

Hey, baby. Is this guy bothering you?

She beams at me. Eyes shining, lips moist, her hair cascading over her shoulders. She’s wearing the blue blouse that Taylor bought her, and it complements her eyes and skin. Leaning in, I kiss her. Her cheeks color, but she turns to the asshole who’s taken the hint and stepped back a little.

“Jack, this is Christian. Christian, Jack,” she says, waving between us.

“I’m the boyfriend,” I state, so there’s no confusion, and hold out my hand to Hyde.

See. I can play nice.

“I’m the boss,” he responds as we shake. His grip is tight, so I tighten mine.

Keep your hands off my girl.

“Ana did mention an ex-boyfriend,” he says, with a patronizing drawl.

“Well, no longer ex.” I give him a slight fuck-off smile. “Come on, baby, time to go.”

“Please, stay and join us for a drink,” Hyde says, emphasizing the word “us.”

“We have plans. Another time, perhaps.”

Like. Never.

I don’t trust him, and I want Ana far away from him. “Come,” I say when I take her hand.

“See you Monday,” she says as she tightens her fingers around mine. She’s addressing Hyde and an attractive woman, who must be one of her colleagues. At least Ana wasn’t on her own with him. The woman gives Ana a warm smile while Hyde scowls at us both. I sense his eyes boring into my back as we leave. But I don’t give a fuck.

Outside, Taylor is waiting in the Q7. I open the rear door for Ana.

“Why did that feel like a pissing contest?” she asks as she gets in.

Perceptive as ever, Miss Steele.

“Because it was,” I confirm, and close her door.

When I’m in the car, I reach for her hand because I want to touch her, and raise it to my lips. “Hi,” I whisper. She looks so good. The dark circles beneath her eyes have disappeared. She’s slept. She’s eaten. Her healthy glow has returned. From her bright smile, I’d say she’s brimming with happiness, and it washes over me.

“Hi,” she says, all breathy and suggestive. Damn, I want to jump her now—though I’m sure Taylor wouldn’t appreciate it if I did. I glance at him and his eyes dart to mine in the
rearview mirror. He’s waiting for instruction.

Well, we’re doing this Ana’s way.

“What would you like to do this evening?” I ask.

“I thought you said we had plans.”

“Oh, I know what I’d like to do, Anastasia. I’m asking you what you want to do.”

Her smile widens into a salacious grin that speaks directly to my cock.

Hot damn.

“I see. So…begging it is, then. Do you want to beg at my place or yours?” I tease.

Her face shines with humor. “I think you’re being very presumptuous, Mr. Grey. But by way of a change, we could go to my apartment.” She bites down on her plump lower lip and peers at me through her dark lashes.

Fuck.

“Taylor, Miss Steele’s, please.” And hurry!

“Sir,” Taylor acknowledges, and he heads off into the traffic.

“So how has your day been?” I ask, and brush my thumb across her knuckles. Her breath hitches.

“Good. Yours?”

“Good, thank you.” Yes. Really good. I’ve done more work today than I’ve done all week. I kiss her hand, because I have her to thank for that. “You look lovely.”

“As do you.”

Oh, baby, it’s just a pretty face.

Speaking of pretty faces—“Your boss, Jack Hyde, is he good at his job?”

She frowns and the
v
I like to kiss forms above her nose. “Why? This isn’t about your pissing contest?”

“That man wants into your panties, Anastasia,” I warn her, trying to sound as neutral as possible. She looks shocked. Jesus, she’s so innocent. It was obvious to me and anyone who was paying attention at the bar.

“Well, he can want all he likes,” she says, her tone prim. “Why are we even having this conversation? You know I have no interest in him whatsoever. He’s just my boss.”

“That’s the point. He wants what’s mine. I need to know if he’s good at his job.” Because if not, I’ll fire his sorry ass.

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