Fifty Shades Darker (Fifty Shades #2)(15)


by E.L. James

I check the tag on one of the evening dresses: $2,998. Holy f**k. I sink to the floor.

This isn't me. I put my head in my hands and try to process the last few hours. It's exhausting. Why, oh why have I fallen for someone who is plain crazy - beautiful, sexy as f**k, richer than Croesus, and crazy with a capital K?

I fish my Blackberry out of my backpack and call my mom.

"Ana, honey! It's been so long. How are you, darling?"

"Oh, you know..."

"What's wrong? Still not worked it out with Christian?"

"Mom, it's complicated. I think he's nuts. That's the problem."

"Tell me about it. Men, there's just no reading them sometimes. Bob's wondering if our move to Georgia was a good one."

"What?"

"Yeah, he's talking about going back to Vegas."

Oh, someone else has problems. I'm not the only one.

Christian appears in the doorway. "There you are. I thought you'd run off." His relief is obvious.

I hold my hand up to indicate that I'm on the phone. "Sorry, Mom, I have to go. I'll call again soon."

"Okay, honey - take care of yourself. Love you!"

"Love you, too, Mom."

I hang up and gaze at Fifty. He frowns, looking strangely awkward.

"Why are you hiding in here?" he asks.

"I'm not hiding. I'm despairing."

"Despairing?"

"Of all this, Christian." I wave my hand in the general direction of the clothes.

"Can I come in?"

"It's your closet."

He frowns again and sits down, cross-legged, facing me.

"They're just clothes. If you don't like them I'll send them back."

"You're a lot to take on, you know?"

He blinks at me and scratches his chin... his stubbly chin. My fingers itch to touch him."I know. I'm trying," he murmurs.

"You're very trying."

"As are you, Miss Steele."

"Why are you doing this?"

His eyes widen and his wary look returns. "You know why."

"No, I don't."

He runs a hand through his hair. "You are one frustrating female."

"You could have a nice brunette submissive. One who'd say, 'how high?' every time you said jump, provided of course she had permission to speak. So why me, Christian? I just don't get it."

He gazes at me for a moment, and I have no idea what he's thinking.

"You make me look at the world differently, Anastasia. You don't want me for my money. You give me... hope," he says softly.

What? Mr. Cryptic is back. "Hope of what?"

He shrugs. "More." His voice is low and quiet. "And you're right. I am used to women doing exactly what I say, when I say, doing exactly what I want. It gets old quickly. There's something about you, Anastasia, that calls to me on some deep level I don't understand.

It's a siren's call. I can't resist you, and I don't want to lose you." He reaches forward and takes my hand. "Don't run, please - have a little faith in me and a little patience. Please."

He looks so vulnerable... Jeez, it's disturbing. Leaning up on my knees, I bend forward and kiss him gently on his lips.

"Okay. Faith and patience, I can live with that."

"Good. Because Franco's here."

Franco is small, dark, and g*y. I love him.

"Such beautiful hair!" he gushes with an outrageous, probably fake Italian accent. I bet he's from Baltimore or somewhere, but his enthusiasm is infectious. Christian leads us both into his bathroom, exits hurriedly, and reenters carrying a chair from his room.

"I'll leave you two to it," he mutters.

"Grazie, Mr. Grey." Franco turns to me. "Bene, Anastasia, what shall we do with you?"

Christian is sitting on his couch, plowing through what look like spreadsheets. Soft, mellow classical music drifts through the great room. A woman sings passionately, pouring her soul into the song. It's breathtaking. Christian glances up and smiles, distracting me from the music.

"See! I tell you he like it," Franco enthuses.

"You look lovely, Ana," Christian says appreciatively.

"My work 'ere is done," Franco exclaims.

Christian rises and strolls toward us. "Thank you, Franco."

Franco turns, grasps me in an overwhelming bear hug, and kisses both my cheeks.

"Never let anyone else be cutting your hair, bellissima Anastasia!"

I laugh, slightly embarrassed by his familiarity. Christian shows him to the foyer door and returns moments later.

"I'm glad you kept it long," he says as he walks toward me, his eyes bright. He takes a strand between his fingers.

"So soft," he murmurs, gazing down at me. "Are you still mad at me?"

I nod and he smiles.

"What precisely are you mad at me about?"

I roll my eyes. "You want the list?"

"There's a list?"

"A long one."

"Can we discuss it in bed?"

"No." I pout at him childishly.

"Over lunch, then. I'm hungry, and not just for food," he gives me a salacious smile.

"I am not going to let you dazzle me with your sexpertise."

He stifles a smile. "What is bothering you specifically, Miss Steele? Spit it out."

Okay.

"What's bothering me? Well, there's your gross invasion of my privacy, the fact that you took me to some place where your ex-mistress works and you used to take all your lovers to have their bits waxed, you manhandled me in the street like I was six years old - and to cap it all, you let your Mrs. Robinson touch you!" My voice has risen to a crescendo.

He raises his eyebrows, and his good humor vanishes.

"That's quite a list. But just to clarify once more - she's not my Mrs. Robinson."

"She can touch you," I repeat.

He purses his lips. "She knows where."

"What does that mean?"

He runs both hands through his hair and closes his eyes briefly, as if he's seeking divine guidance of some kind. He swallows.

"You and I don't have any rules. I have never had a relationship without rules, and I never know where you're going to touch me. It makes me nervous. Your touch completely - " He stops, searching for the words. "It just means more... so much more"

More? His answer's completely unexpected, throwing me, and there's that little word with the big meaning hanging between us again.

My touch means... more. Holy cow. How am I supposed to resist when he says this stuff? Gray eyes search mine, watching, apprehensive.

Tentatively I reach out and apprehension shifts to alarm. Christian steps back and I drop my hand.

"Hard limit," he whispers urgently, a pained, panicked look on his face.

I can't help but feel a crushing disappointment. "How would you feel if you couldn't touch me?"

"Devastated and deprived," he says immediately.

Oh, my Fifty Shades. Shaking my head, I offer him a small, reassuring smile and he relaxes.

"You'll have to tell me exactly why this is a hard limit, one day, please."

"One day," he murmurs and seems to snap out of his vulnerability in a nanosecond.

How can he switch so quickly? He's the most capricious person I know.

"So, the rest of your list. Invading your privacy." His mouth twists as he contemplates this. "Because I know your bank account number?"

"Yes, that's outrageous."

"I do background checks on all my submissives. I'll show you." He turns and heads for his study.

I dutifully follow him, dazed. From a locked filing cabinet, he pulls a manila folder.

Typed on the tab: anastasia rose steele.

Holy f**king shit. I glare at him.

He shrugs apologetically. "You can keep it," he says quietly.

"Well, gee, thanks," I snap. I flick through the contents. He has a copy of my birth certificate, for heaven's sake, my hard limits, the NDA, the contract -  Jeez - my social security number, resume, employment records.

"So you knew I worked at Clayton's?"

"Yes."

"It wasn't a coincidence. You didn't just drop by?"

"No."

I don't know whether to be angry or flattered.

"This is f**ked-up. You know that?"

"I don't see it that way. What I do, I have to be careful."

"But this is private."

"I don't misuse the information. Anyone can get hold of it if they have half a mind to, Anastasia. To have control - I need information. It's how I've always operated." He gazes at me, his expression guarded and unreadable.

"You do misuse the information. You deposited twenty-four thousand dollars that I didn't want into my account."

His mouth presses in a hard line. "I told you. That's what Taylor managed to get for your car. Unbelievable, I know, but there you go."

"But the Audi..."

"Anastasia, do you have any idea how much money I make?"

I flush, of course not. "Why should I? I don't need to know the bottom line of your bank account, Christian."

His eyes soften. "I know. That's one of the things I love about you."

I gaze at him, shocked. Love about me?

"Anastasia, I earn roughly one hundred thousand dollars an hour."

My mouth drops open. That is an obscene amount of money.

"Twenty-four thousand dollars is nothing. The car, the Tess books, the clothes, they're nothing." His voice is soft.

I gaze at him. He really has no idea. Extraordinary.

"If you were me, how would you feel about all this... largesse coming your way?" I ask.He stares at me blankly, and there it is, his problem in a nutshell - empathy or the lack thereof. The silence stretches between us.

Finally, he shrugs. "I don't know," he says, and he looks genuinely bemused.

My heart swells. This is it, the crux of his Fifty Shades, surely. He can't put himself in my shoes. Well, now I know.

"It doesn't feel great. I mean, you're very generous, but it makes me uncomfortable. I have told you this enough times."

He sighs. "I want to give you the world, Anastasia."

"I just want you, Christian. Not all the add-ons."

"They're part of the deal. Part of what I am."

Oh, this is going nowhere.

"Shall we eat?" I ask. This tension between us is draining.

He frowns. "Sure."

"I'll cook."

"Good. Otherwise there's food in the fridge."

"Mrs. Jones is off on the weekends? So you eat cold cuts most weekends?"

"No."

"Oh?"

He sighs. "My submissives cook, Anastasia."

"Oh, of course." I flush. How could I be so stupid? I smile sweetly at him. "What would Sir like to eat?"

He smirks. "Whatever Madam can find," he says darkly.

Inspecting the impressive contents of the fridge, I decide on Spanish omelet. There are even cold potatoes - perfect. It's quick and easy. Christian is still in his study, no doubt invading some poor, unsuspecting fool's privacy and compiling information. The thought is unpleasant and leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. My mind is reeling. He really knows no bounds.

I need music if I'm going to cook, and I'm going to cook unsubmissively! I wander over to the iPod dock beside the fireplace and pick up Christian's iPod. I bet there are more of Leila's choices on here, - I dread the very idea.

Where is she? I wonder. What does she want?

I shudder. What a legacy. I can't wrap my head around it.