Read Darker Online

Authors: E L James

Darker (8 page)

She shrugs but looks down at her lap.

What? Has he tried something already?

She tells me she thinks he’s good at what he does, but she sounds like she’s trying to convince herself.

“Well, he’d better leave you alone, or he’ll find himself on his ass on the sidewalk.”

“Oh, Christian, what are you talking about? He hasn’t done anything wrong”

Why is she frowning? Does he make her uncomfortable? Talk to me, Ana. Please. “He makes one move, you tell me. It’s called gross moral turpitude—or sexual harassment.”

“It was just a drink after work.”

“I mean it. One move and he’s out.”

“You don’t have that kind of power,” she scoffs, amused. But her smile fades and she regards me with skepticism. “Do you, Christian?”

I do, actually. I smile at her.

“You’re buying the company?” she whispers, and she looks appalled.

“Not exactly.” This is not the reaction I was expecting, nor is the conversation going the way I thought it would.

“You’ve bought it. SIP. Already.” Her face pales.

Christ! She’s pissed.

“Possibly,” I answer, cautiously.

“You have or you haven’t?” she demands.

Showtime, Grey. Tell her.

“Have.”

“Why?” Her voice is shrill.

“Because I can, Anastasia. I need you safe.”

“But you said you wouldn’t interfere in my career!”

“And I won’t.”

She snatches her hand back. “Christian!”

Shit.
“Are you mad at me?”

“Yes. Of course I’m mad at you,” she yells. “I mean, what kind of responsible business executive makes decisions based on who he is currently fucking?” She glances nervously at Taylor, then glares at me, her expression full of recrimination.

And I want to admonish her for her foul mouth and for overreacting. I start to tell her so, then decide that it might not be a good idea. Her lips are set in the mulish Steele pout that I know so well…I have missed that, too.

She folds her arms in disgust.

Fuck.

She’s really mad.

I glare back at her, wanting nothing more than to drag her across my knee—but, sadly, that’s not an option.

Hell,
I was only doing what I thought was best.

Taylor parks outside her apartment, and before he’s stopped, it seems, she’s out of the car.

Shit!
“I think you’d better wait here,” I say to Taylor, and I scramble after her. My evening may be about to take a radically different course than the one I’d planned. I may have blown it already.

When I reach her at the lobby door, she’s rummaging around in her purse for keys; I stand behind her, helpless.

What to do?

“Anastasia,” I entreat her, as I try to remain calm. She lets out an exaggerated sigh and turns to face me, her mouth pressed in a hard line.

Following up what she said in the car, I try for humor. “First, I haven’t fucked you for a while—a long while, it feels—and second, I wanted to get into publishing. Of the four companies in Seattle, SIP is the most profitable.” I keep talking about the company but what I really want to say is…
Please don’t fight with me.

“So you’re my boss now?” she snaps.

“Technically, I’m your boss’s boss’s boss.”

“And technically, it’s gross moral turpitude—the fact that I am fucking my boss’s boss’s boss.”

“At the moment, you’re arguing with him.” My voice is beginning to rise.

“That’s because he’s such an ass.”

Ass.
Ass!

She’s calling me names! The only people who do that are Mia and Elliot.

“An ass?” Yes. Maybe I am. And suddenly I want to laugh. Anastasia called me an ass—Elliot would approve.

“Yes.” She’s trying to stay mad at me, but her mouth is lifting at the corners.

“An ass?” I repeat, and I cannot help my smile.

“Don’t make me laugh when I’m mad at you!” she shouts, trying and failing to stay serious. I give her my best one-thousand-watt smile and she unleashes an uninhibited, spontaneous laugh that makes me feel ten feet tall.

Success!

“Just because I have a stupid damn grin on my face doesn’t mean I am not mad as hell at you,” she claims between giggles. Leaning forward, I nuzzle her hair and inhale deeply. Her scent and her proximity stir my libido. I want her.

“As ever, Miss Steele, you are unexpected.” I gaze down, treasuring her flushed face and shining eyes. She’s beautiful. “So are you going to invite me in, or am I to be sent packing for exercising my democratic right as an American citizen, entrepreneur, and consumer to purchase whatever I damn well please?”

“Have you spoken to Dr. Flynn about this?”

I laugh. Not yet. It will be a mindfuck when I do.

“Are you going to let me in or not, Anastasia?”

For a moment she looks undecided, making my heartbeat spike. But she bites her lip, then smiles and opens the door for me. I wave Taylor off and follow Ana upstairs, enjoying the fantastic view of her ass. The gentle sway of her hips as she climbs each step is beyond seductive—more so, I think, because she has no idea she’s so alluring. Her innate sensuality stems from her innocence: her willingness to experiment, and her ability to trust.

Damn.
I hope I still have her trust. After all, I drove her away. I will have to work hard to rebuild it. I don’t want to lose her again.

Her apartment is neat and tidy, as I would expect, but it has an unused, uninhabited vibe about it. It reminds me of the gallery: it’s all old brick and wood. The concrete kitchen island is a stark and novel design statement. I like it.

“Nice place,” I remark with approval.

“Kate’s parents bought it for her.”

Eamon Kavanagh has indulged his daughter. It’s a stylish place—he’s chosen well. I hope Katherine appreciates it. I turn and stare at Ana as she stands by the island. I wonder how she feels living with such a well-off friend. I’m sure she pays her way…but it must be tough to play second fiddle to Katherine Kavanagh. Maybe she likes it, or maybe she finds it a struggle. She certainly doesn’t squander her money on clothes. But I’ve remedied that; I have a closetful for her at Escala. I wonder what she’ll think about that? She’ll likely give me a hard time.

Don’t think about that now, Grey.

Ana’s studying me, her eyes dark. She licks her bottom lip, and my body lights up like a firework.

“Er…would you like a drink?” she asks.

“No thank you, Anastasia.” I want you.

She clasps her hands together, seemingly at a loss and looking a little apprehensive. Do I still make her nervous? This woman can bring me to my knees, and she’s the one who’s nervous?

“What would you like to do, Anastasia?” I ask, and move closer to her, my eyes not leaving hers. “I know what I want to do.”

And we can do it here, or in your bedroom, or your bathroom, I don’t care—I just want you. Now.

Her lips part as her breath hitches and her breathing quickens.

Oh, that sound is beguiling.

You want me, too, baby.

I know it.

I feel it.

She backs up against the kitchen island with nowhere else to go.

“I’m still mad at you,” she asserts, but her voice is tremulous and soft. She doesn’t sound mad at all. Wanton, maybe. But not mad.

“I know,” I agree, and give her a wolfish grin. Her eyes widen.

Oh, baby.

“Would you like something to eat?” she whispers.

I nod slowly. “Yes. You.”

Standing over her, staring into eyes that are dark with desire, I feel the heat from her body. It’s searing me. I want to be wrapped in it. Bathed in it. I want to make her scream and moan and call out my name. I want to reclaim her and wipe the memory of our breakup from her mind.

I want to make her mine. Again.

But first things first.

“Have you eaten today?” I need to know.

“I had a sandwich at lunch.”

That will do. “You need to eat,” I chide her.

“I’m really not hungry right now…for food.”

“What are you hungry for, Miss Steele?” I lower my face so that our lips are almost touching.

“I think you know, Mr. Grey.”

She’s not wrong. I stifle my groan and it takes all my self-control not to grab her and toss her onto the concrete counter. But I was serious when I said she’d have to beg. She has to tell me what she wants. She has to vocalize her feelings, her needs, and desires. I want to learn what makes her happy. I lean down as if to kiss her, fooling her, and whisper in her ear instead.

“Do you want me to kiss you, Anastasia?”

She inhales sharply.
“Yes.”

“Where?”

“Everywhere.”

“You’re going to have to be a bit more specific than that. I told you I’m not going to touch you until you beg me and tell me what to do.”

“Please,” she pleads.

Oh no, baby. I’m not going to make this easy on you. “Please what?”

“Touch me.”

“Where, baby?”

She reaches for me.

No.

The darkness erupts inside me and grips my throat with its claws. Instinctively, I step back, my heart pounding as fear courses through my body.

Don’t touch me. Don’t touch me.

Fuck.

“No. No,” I mutter.

This is why I have rules.

“What?” She’s confused.

“No.” I shake my head. She knows this. I told her yesterday. I have to make her understand she can’t touch me.

“Not at all?” She steps toward me and I don’t know what she intends. The darkness stabs at my insides, so I take another step back and hold up my hands to ward her off.

With a smile, I beseech her, “Look. Ana…” But I can’t find the right words.

Please. Don’t touch me. I can’t handle it.

Damn, it’s frustrating.

“Sometimes you don’t mind,” she protests. “Perhaps I should find a marker pen, and we could map out the no-go areas.”

Well, that’s an approach that I’ve not considered before. “That’s not a bad idea. Where’s your bedroom?” I need to move her on from this subject.

She nods to the left.

“Have you been taking your pill?”

Her face falls. “No.”

What!

After all the trouble we went to to get her on the fucking pill! I can’t believe she just stopped taking it.

“I see.”

This is a disaster. What the hell am I going to do with her? Damn it. I need condoms. “Come, let’s have something to eat,” I say, thinking that we can go out and I can replenish my supply.

“I thought we were going to bed. I want to go to bed with you.” She sounds sullen.

“I know, baby.”

But with us it’s two steps forward and one step back.

This evening is not going as planned. Maybe it was too much to hope
.
How can she be with a fucked-up asshole who can’t bear to be touched? And how can I be with someone who forgets to take their damned pill? I hate condoms.

Christ.
Maybe we are incompatible.

Enough of the negative thinking, Grey. Enough!

She looks crestfallen, and part of me is suddenly absurdly pleased that she does. At least she wants me. I bound forward and grab her wrists, pinning her hands behind her and pulling her into my arms. Her slender body against the length of mine feels good. But she’s slim. Too slim. “You need to eat and so do I.” And you’ve completely thrown me by trying to touch me. I need to recover my composure, baby. “Besides…anticipation is the key to seduction, and right now I’m really into delayed gratification.” Especially with no contraception.

She looks a little skeptical.

Yes, I know. I just made that up.

“I’m seduced and I want my gratification now. I’ll beg. Please,” she whimpers.

She is Eve herself: temptation incarnate. I tighten my hold and there’s definitely less of her. It’s disconcerting, more so because I know I’m to blame. “Eat. You’re too slender.” I kiss her forehead and release her, wondering where we can dine.

“I’m still mad that you bought SIP, and now I’m mad at you because you’re making me wait.” She purses her lips.

“You are one angry little madam, aren’t you?” I state, knowing she won’t understand the compliment. “You’ll feel better after a good meal.”

“I know what I’ll feel better after.”

“Anastasia Steele, I’m shocked.” I feign outrage and hold my palm against my heart.

“Stop teasing me. You don’t fight fair.” All of a sudden her stance changes. “I could cook something,” she says, “except we’ll have to go shopping.”

“Shopping?”

“For groceries.”

“You have no food here?” For heaven’s sake—no wonder she hasn’t eaten! “Let’s go shopping, then.” I stride to the door of her apartment and open it wide, gesturing for her to exit. This could work in my favor. I just need to find a pharmacy or a convenience store.

“Okay, okay,” she says, and scurries out the door.

As we walk down the street hand in hand, I wonder at how, in her presence, I can run through an entire spectrum of emotion: from angry, to carnal, to fearful, to playful. Before Ana, I was calm and stable, but boy, was my life monotonous. That changed the moment she fell into my office. Being with her is like being inside a storm, my feelings colliding and crashing together, then surging and ebbing away. I hardly know which way is up. Ana’s never dull. I just hope what’s left of my heart can cope.

We walk two blocks to
Ernie’s Supermarket. It’s small, and packed with too many people; mostly singles, I think, judging from the contents of their shopping baskets. And here am I, single no more.

I like that idea.

I follow in Ana’s wake, holding a wire basket and enjoying the view of her ass, all tight and taut in her jeans. I especially like it when she leans over the vegetable counter and picks up some onions. The fabric stretches across her behind and her blouse rides up, revealing a sliver of pale, flawless skin.

Oh, what I’d like to do to that ass.

Ana is looking at me, perplexed and asking me questions about when I was last in a supermarket? I have no idea. She wants to cook stir-fry because it’s quick. Quick, huh? I smirk and follow her through the store, enjoying how adept she is at choosing her ingredients: a squeeze of a tomato here, the sniff of a pepper there. As we walk to the checkout she asks me about my staff and how long they’ve been with me.
Why does she want to know?
“Taylor, four years, I think. Mrs. Jones, about the same.”

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