Fifty Shades Darker (Fifty Shades #2)(5)


by E.L. James

"Okay, I'll eat. Stow your twitching palm, please."

He doesn't smile but continues to glare at me. Reluctantly I lift my knife and fork and slice into my steak. Oh, it's mouthwateringly good. I am hungry, really hungry. I chew and he visibly relaxes.

We eat our supper in silence. The music's changed. A soft-voiced woman sings in the background, her words echoing my thoughts.

I glance at Fifty. He's eating and watching me. Hunger, longing, anxiety combined in one hot look.

"Do you know who's singing?" I try for some normal conversation.

Christian pauses and listens. "No... but she's good, whoever she is."

"I like her, too."

Finally he smiles his private enigmatic smile. What's he planning?

"What?" I ask.

He shakes his head. "Eat up," he says mildly.

I have eaten half the food on my plate. I cannot eat any more. How can I negotiate this?

"I can't manage any more. Have I eaten enough for Sir?"

He stares at me impassively, not answering, then glances at his watch.

"I am really full," I add, taking a sip of the delicious wine.

"We have to go shortly. Taylor's here, and you have to be up for work in the morning."

"So do you."

"I function on a lot less sleep than you do, Anastasia. At least you've eaten something."

"Aren't we going back via Charlie Tango?"

"No, I thought I might have a drink. Taylor will collect us. Besides, this way I have you in the car all to myself for a few hours, at least. What can we do but talk?"

Oh, that's his plan.

Christian summons the waiter to ask for the check, then picks up his Blackberry and makes a call.

"We're at Le Picotin, South West Third Avenue." He hangs up.

Jeez, he's curt over the phone.

"You're very brusque with Taylor, in fact, with most people."

"I just get to the point quickly, Anastasia."

"You haven't gotten to the point this evening. Nothing's changed, Christian."

"I have a proposition for you."

"This started with a proposition."

"A different proposition."

The waiter returns, and Christian hands over his credit card without checking the bill.

He gazes at me speculatively while the waiter swipes his card. Christian's phone buzzes once, and he peers at it.

He has a proposition? What now? A couple of scenarios run through my mind: kidnap, working for him. No, nothing makes sense. Christian finishes paying.

"Come. Taylor's outside."

We stand and he takes my hand.

"I don't want to lose you, Anastasia." He kisses my knuckles tenderly, and the touch of his lips on my skin resonates throughout my body.

Outside the Audi is waiting. Christian opens my door. Climbing in, I sink into the plush leather. He heads to the driver's side, Taylor steps out of the car and they talk briefly.

This isn't their usual protocol. I'm curious. What are they talking about? Moments later, they both climb in, and I glance at Christian who's wearing his impassive face as he stares ahead.

I allow myself a brief moment to examine his godlike profile: straight nose, sculptured full lips, hair falling deliciously over his forehead. This divine man is surely not meant for me. Soft music suddenly fills the rear of the car, an orchestral piece that I don't know, and Taylor pulls into the light traffic, heading for the I-5 and Seattle.

Christian shifts to face me. "As I was saying, Anastasia, I have a proposition for you."

I glance nervously at Taylor.

"Taylor can't hear you," Christian reassures me.

"How?"

"Taylor," Christian calls. Taylor doesn't respond. He calls again, still no response.

Christian leans over and taps his shoulder. Taylor removes an ear bud I hadn't noticed.

"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."

Oh. "Okay, your proposition?"

Christian looks suddenly determined and businesslike. Holy shit. We're negotiating a deal. I listen attentively.

"Let me ask you something first. Do you want a regular vanilla relationship with no kinky f**kery at all?"

My mouth drops open. "Kinky f**kery?" I squeak.

"Kinky f**kery."

"I can't believe you said that." I glance nervously at Taylor.

"Well, I did. Answer me," he says calmly.

I flush. My inner goddess is down on bended knee with her hands clasped in supplication begging me.

"I like your kinky f**kery," I whisper.

"That's what I thought. So what don't you like?"

Not being able to touch you. You enjoying my pain, the bite of the belt...

"The threat of cruel and unusual punishment."

"What does that mean?"

"Well, you have all those canes and whips and stuff in your playroom, and they frighten the living daylights out of me. I don't want you to use them on me."

"Okay, so no whips or canes - or belts, for that matter," he says sardonically.

I gaze at him puzzled. "Are you attempting to redefine the hard limits?"

"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 on me that's difficult for me to handle. And the idea that you'll do it because I have crossed some arbitrary line."

"But it's not arbitrary; the rules are written down."

"I don't want a set of rules."

"None at all?"

"No rules." I shake my head, but my heart is in my mouth. Where is he going with this?

"But you don't mind if I spank you?"

"Spank me with what?"

"This." He holds up his hand.

I squirm uncomfortably. "No, not really. Especially with those silver balls..." Thank heavens it's dark, my face is flaming and my voice trails off as I recall that night. Yeah...

I'd do that again.

He smirks at me. "Yes, that was fun."

"More than fun," I mutter.

"So you can deal with some pain."

I shrug. "Yes, I suppose." Oh, where is he going with this? My anxiety level has shot up several magnitudes on the Richter scale.

He strokes his chin, deep in thought. "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."

I stare at him, stunned, with no thoughts in my head at all - like a computer crash. He gazes at me anxiously, but I can't see him clearly, as we're shrouded in the Oregon darkness. It occurs to me, finally, this is it.

He wants the light, but can I ask him to do this for me? And don't I like the dark? Some dark, sometimes. Memories of the Thomas Tallis night drift invitingly through my mind.

"But what about punishments?"

"No punishments." He shakes his head. "None."

"And the rules?"

"No rules."

"None at all? But you have needs."

"I need you more, Anastasia. These last few days have been purgatory. 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 so untroubled and beautiful, not that you're not beautiful now, but here you sit. I see your pain. It's hard knowing that I'm the one who has made you feel this way.

"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."

My mouth goes dry. Holy shit. My subconscious nods with satisfaction. If that isn't a declaration of love, I don't know what is. And the words tumble out of me - a dam breached.

"Christian, why do you think you have a dark soul? 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," he whispers. "How often do I have to tell you that?"

"I never know what you're thinking. Sometimes you're so closed off... like an island state. 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 to so much to show you how much I love you."

He blinks at me in the darkness, warily I think, and I can resist him no longer. I unbuckle my seatbelt and scramble into his lap, taking him by surprise, and take his head in my hands.

"I love you, Christian Grey. 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?"

He snakes his arms around me and crushes me to him.

"Oh, Ana," he breathes as he buries his nose in my hair.

We sit, our arms wrapped around each other, listening to the music - a soothing piano piece - mirroring the emotions in the car, the sweet tranquil calm after the storm. I snuggle into his arms, resting my head in the crook of his neck. He gently strokes my back.

"Touching is a hard limit for me, Anastasia," he whispers.

"I know. I wish I understood why."

After a while, he sighs, and in a soft voice he says, "I had a horrific childhood. One of the crack whore's pimps..." His voice trails off, and his body tenses as he recalls some unimaginable horror. "I can remember that," he whispers, shuddering.

Abruptly, my heart constricts as I remember the burn scars marring his skin. Oh, Christian. I tighten my arms around his neck.

"Was she abusive? Your mother?" My voice is low and soft with unshed tears.

"Not that I remember. She was neglectful. She didn't protect me from her pimp."

He snorts. "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 cannot contain my gasp of horror. Holy mother f**k. Bile rises in my throat.

"That's pretty f**ked-up," I whisper.

"Fifty shades," he murmurs.

I turn my head and press my lips against his neck, seeking and offering solace as I imagine a small, dirty, gray-eyed boy lost and lonely beside the body of his dead mother.

Oh, Christian. I breathe in his scent. He smells heavenly, my favorite fragrance in the entire world. He tightens his arms around me and kisses my hair, and I sit wrapped in his embrace as Taylor speeds into the night.

When I wake, we're driving through Seattle.

"Hey," Christian says softly.

"Sorry," I murmur as I sit up, blinking and stretching. I am still in his arms, on his lap.

"I could watch you sleep forever, Ana."

"Did I say anything?"

"No. We're nearly at your place."