Fifty Shades Darker (Fifty Shades #2)(13)


by E.L. James

My blood sings in my veins. Will he always have this effect on me? And I on him?

"Because I can." I'm breathless. I feel rather than see his smile against my neck, and he presses his forehead to mine.

"Lord, I want to take you now, but I'm out of condoms. I can never get enough of you.

You're a maddening, maddening woman."

"And you make me mad," I whisper. "In every way."

He shakes his head. "Come. Let's go out for breakfast. And I know a place you can get your hair cut."

"Okay," I acquiesce and just like that, our fight is over.

"I'll get this." I pick up the tab for breakfast before he does.

He scowls at me.

"You have to be quick around here, Grey."

"You're right, I do," he says sourly, though I think he's teasing.

"Don't look so cross. I'm twenty-four thousand dollars richer than I was this morning. I can afford" - I glance at the check - "twenty-two dollars and sixty-seven cents for breakfast."

"Thank you," he says grudgingly. Oh, the sulky schoolboy is back.

"Where to now?"

"You really want your hair cut?"

"Yes, look at it."

"You look lovely to me. You always do."

I blush and stare down at my fingers knotted in my lap. "And there's your father's function this evening."

"Remember, it's black tie."

Oh Jeez. "Where is it?"

"At my parents' house. They have a marquee. You know, the works."

"What's the charity?"

Christian rubs his hands down his thighs, looking uncomfortable.

"It's a drug rehab program for parents with young kids called Coping Together."

"Sounds like a good cause," I say softly.

"Come, let's go." He stands, effectively halting that topic of conversation and holds out his hand. As I take it, he tightens his fingers around mine.

It's strange. He's so demonstrative in some ways and yet so closed in others. He leads me out of the restaurant, and we walk down the street. It is a lovely, mild morning. The sun is shining, and the air smells of coffee and freshly baked bread.

"Where are we going?"

"Surprise."

Oh, okay. I don't really like surprises.

We walk for two blocks, and the stores become decidedly more exclusive. I haven't yet had an opportunity to explore, but this really is just around the corner from where I live. Kate will be pleased. There are plenty of small boutiques to feed her fashion passion.

Actually, I need to buy some floaty skirts for work.

Christian stops outside a large, slick-looking beauty salon and opens the door for me.

It's called Esclava. The interior is all white and leather. At the stark white reception desk sits a young blond woman in a crisp white uniform. She glances up as we enter.

"Good morning, Mr. Grey," she says brightly, color rising in her cheeks as she bats her eyelashes at him. It's the Grey effect, but she knows him! How?

"Hello Greta."

And he knows her. What is this?

"Is this the usual, sir?" she asks politely. She's wearing very pink lipstick.

"No," he says quickly, with a nervous glance at me.

The usual? What does that mean?

Holy f**k! It's Rule no 6, the damned beauty salon. All the waxing nonsense... shit!

This is where he brought all his subs? Maybe Leila, too? What the hell am I supposed to make of this?

"Miss Steele will tell you what she wants."

I glare at him. He's introducing the Rules by stealth. I've agreed to the personal trainer - and now this?

"Why here?" I hiss at him.

"I own this place, and three more like it."

"You own it?" I gasp in surprise. Well, that's unexpected.

"Yes. It's a sideline. Anyway - whatever you want, you can have it here, on the house.

All sorts of massage; Swedish, shiatsu, hot stones, reflexology, seaweed baths, facials, all that stuff that women like - everything. It's done here." He waves his long-fingered hand dismissively.

"Waxing?"

He laughs. "Yes waxing, too. Everywhere," he whispers conspiratorially, enjoying my discomfort.

I blush and glance at Greta, who is looking at me expectantly.

"I'd like a haircut, please."

"Certainly, Miss Steele."

Greta is all pink lipstick and bustling Germanic efficiency as she checks her computer screen.

"Franco is free in five minutes."

"Franco's fine," says Christian reassuringly to me. I am trying to wrap my head around this. Christian Grey CEO owns a chain of beauty salons.

I peek up at him, and suddenly he blanches - something, or someone, has caught his eye. I turn to see where he's looking, and right at the back of the salon a sleek platinum blonde has appeared, closing a door behind her and speaking to one of the hair stylists.

Platinum Blonde is tall, tanned, lovely, and in her late thirties or forties - it's difficult to tell. She's wearing the same uniform as Greta, but in black. She looks stunning. Her hair shines like a halo, cut in sharp bob. As she turns, she catches sight of Christian and smiles at him, a dazzling smile of warm recognition.

"Excuse me," Christian mumbles hurriedly.

He strides quickly through the salon, past the hair stylists all in white, past the appren-tices at the sinks, and over to her, too far away for me to hear their conversation. Platinum Blonde greets him with obvious affection, kissing both his cheeks, her hands resting on his upper arms, and they talk animatedly together.

"Miss Steele?"

Greta the receptionist is trying to get my attention.

"Hang on a moment, please." I watch Christian, fascinated.

Platinum Blonde turns and looks at me, and gives me the same dazzling smile, as if she knows me. I smile politely back.

Christian looks upset about something. He's reasoning with her, and she's acquiesc-ing, holding her hands up and smiling at him. He's smiling at her - clearly they know each other well. Perhaps they've worked together for a long time? Maybe she runs the place; after all, she has a certain look of authority.

Then it hits me like a wrecking ball, and I know, deep down in my gut on a visceral level, I know who it is. It's her. Stunning, older, beautiful.

It's Mrs. Robinson.

Chapter Five

"Greta, who is Mr. Grey talking to?" My scalp is trying to leave the building. It's prickling with apprehension, and my subconscious is screaming at me to follow it. But I sound nonchalant enough.

"Oh, that's Mrs. Lincoln. She owns the place with Mr. Grey." Greta seems more than happy to share.

"Mrs. Lincoln?" I thought Mrs. Robinson was divorced. Perhaps she's remarried to some poor sap.

"Yes. She's not usually here, but one of our technicians is sick today so she's filling in."

"Do you know Mrs. Lincoln's first name?"

Greta looks up at me, frowning, and purses her bright pink lips, questioning my curiosity. Shit, perhaps this is a step too far.

"Elena," she says, almost reluctantly.

I'm swamped by a strange sense of relief that my spidey sense has not let me down.

Spidey sense? My subconscious snorts, Paedo sense.

They are still deep in discussion. Christian is talking rapidly to Elena, and she looks worried, nodding, grimacing, and shaking her head. Reaching out, she rubs his arm soothingly while biting her lip. Another nod, and she glances at me and offers me a small reassuring smile.

I can only stare at her stony-faced. I think I'm in shock. How could he bring me here?

She murmurs something to Christian, and he looks my way briefly then turns back to her and replies. She nods, and I think she's wishing him luck, but my lip-reading skills aren't highly developed.

Fifty strides back to me, anxiety etched on his face. Damn right. Mrs. Robinson returns to the back room, closing the door behind her.

Christian frowns. "Are you okay?" he asks, but his voice is strained, cautious.

"Not really. You didn't want to introduce me?" My voice sounds cold, hard.

His mouth drops open, he looks as if I've pulled the rug from under his feet.

"But I thought - "

"For a bright man, sometimes..." Words fail me. "I'd like to go, please."

"Why?"

"You know why." I roll my eyes.

He gazes down at me, his eyes burning.

"I'm sorry, Ana. I didn't know she'd be here. She's never here. She's opened a new branch at the Bravern Center, and that's where she's normally based. Someone was sick today."

I turn on my heel and head for the door.

"We won't need Franco, Greta," Christian snaps as we head out of the door. I have to suppress the impulse to run. I want to run fast and far away. I have an overwhelming urge to cry. I just need to get away from all this f**kedupness.

Christian walks wordlessly beside me as I try to mull all this over in my head. Wrapping my arms protectively around myself, I keep my head down, avoiding the trees on Second Avenue. Wisely, he makes no move to touch me. My mind is boiling with unanswered questions. Will Mr. Evasive fess up?

"You used to take your subs there?" I snap.

"Some of them, yes," he says quietly, his tone clipped.

"Leila?"

"Yes."

"The place looks very new."

"It's been refurbished recently."

"I see. So Mrs. Robinson met all your subs."

"Yes."

"Did they know about her?"

"No. None of them did. Only you."

"But I'm not your sub."

"No, you most definitely are not."

I stop and face him. His eyes are wide, fearful. His lips are pressed into a hard, uncompromising line.

"Can you see how f**ked-up this is?" I glare up at him, my voice low.

"Yes. I'm sorry." And he has the grace to look contrite.

"I want to get my hair cut, preferably somewhere where you haven't f**ked either the staff or the clientele."

He flinches.

"Now, if you'll excuse me."

"You're not running. Are you?" he asks.

"No, I just want a damn haircut. Somewhere I can close my eyes, have someone wash my hair, and forget about all this baggage that accompanies you."

He runs his hand through his hair. "I can have Franco come to the apartment, or your place," he says quietly.

"She's very attractive."

He blinks. "Yes, she is."

"Is she still married?"

"No. She divorced about five years ago."

"Why aren't you with her?"

"Because that's over between us. I've told you this." His brow creases suddenly. Holding his finger up, he fishes his Blackberry out of his jacket pocket. It must be vibrating because I don't hear it ring.

"Welch," he snaps, then listens. We are standing on Second Avenue, and I gaze in the direction of the larch sapling in front of me, its leaves the newest green.

People bustle past us, lost in their Saturday morning chores. No doubt contemplating their own personal dramas. I wonder if they include stalker ex-submissives, stunning ex-Dommes, and a man who has no concept of privacy under United States law.

"Killed in a car crash? When?" Christian interrupts my reverie.

Oh no. Who? I listen more closely.

"That's twice that bastard's not been forthcoming. He must know. Does he have no feelings for her whatsoever?" Christian shakes his head in disgust. "This is beginning to make sense... no... explains why, but not where." Christian glances around us as if searching for something, and I find myself mirroring his actions. Nothing catches my eye.