Fifty Shades Darker (Fifty Shades #2)(7)


by E.L. James

The afternoon drags. I decide, in an unguarded moment, to e-mail Christian.

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, Commissioning Editor, SIP

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...

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.

Oh shit. I had no idea. How the hell does he know? I scowl at the screen and quickly check the e-mails we've sent, deleting them as I do.

Promptly at five thirty, Jack is at my desk. It is Dress-down Friday so he's wearing jeans and a black shirt. He looks very casual.

"Drink, Ana? We usually like to go for a quick one at the bar across the street."

"We?" I ask, hopeful.

"Yeah, most of us go... you coming?"

For some unknown reason, which I don't want to examine too closely, relief floods through me.

"I'd love to. What's the bar called?"

"50s."

"You're kidding."

He looks at me oddly. "No. Some significance for you?"

"No, sorry. I'll join you over there."

"What would you like to drink?"

"A beer please."

"Cool."

I make my way to the powder room and e-mail Christian from the Blackberry.

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

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.

From: Anastasia Steele

Subject: Hazards?

Date: June 10, 2011 17:40

To: Christian Grey

And your point is?

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.

I check myself in the mirror. What a difference a day can make. I have more color in my cheeks, and my eyes are shining. It's the Christian Grey effect. A little e-mail sparring with him will do that to a girl. I grin at the mirror and straighten my pale blue shirt - the one Taylor bought me. I am wearing my favorite jeans today, too. Most of the women in the office wear either jeans or floaty skirts. I will need to invest in a floaty skirt or two. Perhaps I'll do that this weekend and bank the check Christian gave me for Wanda, my Beetle.

As I head out of the building, I hear my name called.

"Miss Steele?"

I turn expectantly, and an ashen young woman approaches me cautiously. She looks like a ghost - so pale and strangely blank.

"Miss Anastasia Steele?" she repeats, and her features stay static even though she's speaking.

"Yes?"

She stops, staring at me from about three feet away on the sidewalk, and I stare back, immobilized. Who is she? What does she want?

"Can I help you?" I ask. How does she know my name?

"No... I just wanted to look at you." Her voice is eerily soft. Like me, she has dark hair that starkly contrasts with her fair skin. Her eyes are brown, like bourbon, but flat.

There's no life in them at all. Her beautiful face is pale, and etched with sorrow.

"Sorry - you have me at a disadvantage," I say politely, trying to ignore the warning tingle up my spine. On closer inspection, she looks odd, disheveled and uncared for. Her clothes are two sizes too big, including her designer trench coat.

She laughs, a strange, discordant sound that only feeds my anxiety.

"What do you have that I don't?" she asks sadly.

My anxiety turns to fear. "I'm sorry - who are you?"

"Me? I'm nobody." She lifts her arm to drag her hand through her shoulder length hair, and as she does, the sleeve of her trench coat rides up, revealing a soiled bandage around her wrist.

Holy f**k.

"Good day, Miss Steele." Turning, she walks up the street as I stand rooted to the spot.

I watch as her slight frame disappears from view, lost amongst the workers pouring out of their various offices.

What was that about?

Confused, I cross the street to the bar, trying to assimilate what has just happened, while my subconscious rears her ugly head and hisses at me -  She has something to do with Christian.

Fifty's is a cavernous, impersonal bar with baseball pennants and posters hanging on the wall. Jack is at the bar with Elizabeth, Courtney the other commissioning editor, two guys from finance, and Claire from reception. She is wearing her trademark silver hooped earrings.

"Hi, Ana!" Jack hands me a bottle of Bud.

"Cheers... thank you," I murmur, still shaken by my encounter with Ghost Girl.

"Cheers." We clink bottles, and he continues his conversation with Elizabeth. Claire smiles sweetly at me.

"So, how has your first week been?" she asks.

"Good, thank you. Everyone seems very friendly."

"You seem much happier today."

I flush. "It's Friday," I mutter quickly. "So - have you any plans this weekend?"

My patented distraction technique works and I'm saved. Claire turns out to be one of seven kids, and she's going to a big family get-together in Tacoma. She becomes quite animated, and I realize I haven't spoken to any women my own age since Kate left for Barbados.

Absently I wonder how Kate is... and Elliot. I must remember to ask Christian if he's heard from him. Oh, and Ethan her brother will be back next Tuesday, and he'll be staying in our apartment. I can't imagine Christian is going to be happy about that. My earlier encounter with strange Ghost Girl slips further from my mind.

During my conversation with Claire, Elizabeth hands me another beer.

"Thanks," I smile at her.

Claire is very easy to talk to - she likes to talk - and before I know it, I am on my third beer, courtesy of one of the guys from finance.

When Elizabeth and Courtney leave, Jack joins Claire and me. Where is Christian?

One of the finance guys engages Claire in conversation.

"Ana, think you made the right decision coming here?" Jack's voice is soft, and he's standing a bit too close. But I've noticed that he has a tendency to do this with everyone, even at the office. My subconscious narrows her eyes. You're reading too much into this, she admonishes me.

"I've enjoyed myself this week, thank you, Jack. Yes, I think I made the right decision."

"You're a very bright girl, Ana. You'll go far."

I blush. "Thank you," I mutter, because I don't know what else to say.

"Do you live far?"

"The Pike Market district."

"Not far from me." Smiling, he moves even closer and leans against the bar, effectively trapping me. "Do you have any plans this weekend?"

"Well... um - "

I feel him before I see him. It's as if my whole body is highly attuned to his presence.

It relaxes and ignites at the same time - a weird, internal duality - and I sense that strange pulsing electricity.

Christian drapes his arm around my shoulder in a seemingly casual display of affection - but I know differently. He is staking a claim, and on this occasion, it's very welcome.

Softly he kisses my hair.

"Hello, baby," he murmurs.

I can't help but feel relieved, safe, and excited with his arm around me. He draws me to his side, and I glance up at him while he stares at Jack, his expression impassive. Turning his attention to me, he gives me a brief crooked smile followed by a swift kiss. He's wearing his navy pinstriped jacket over jeans and an open white shirt. He looks edible.

Jack shuffles back uncomfortably.

"Jack, this is Christian," I mumble apologetically. Why am I apologizing? "Christian, Jack."

"I'm the boyfriend," Christian says with a small, cool smile that doesn't reach his eyes as he shakes Jack's hand. I glance up at Jack who is mentally assessing the fine specimen of manhood in front of him.

"I'm the boss," Jack replies arrogantly. "Ana did mention an ex-boyfriend."

Oh, shit. You don't want to play this game with Fifty.

"Well, no longer ex," Christian replies calmly. "Come on, baby, time to go."

"Please, stay and join us for a drink," Jack says smoothly.

I don't think that's a good idea. Why is this so uncomfortable? I glance at Claire, who is, of course staring, open-mouthed and with frankly carnal appreciation at Christian.

When will I stop caring about the effect he has on other women?

"We have plans," Christian replies with his enigmatic smile.

We do? And a frisson of anticipation runs through my body.

"Another time, perhaps," he adds. "Come," he says to me as he takes my hand.

"See you Monday." I smile at Jack, Claire, and the guys from finance, trying hard to ignore Jack's less-than-pleased expression, and follow Christian out of the door.

Taylor is at the wheel of the Audi waiting at the curb.

"Why did that feel like a pissing contest?" I ask Christian as he opens the car door for me. "Because it was," he murmurs and gives me his enigmatic smile then shuts my door.

"Hello, Taylor," I say and our eyes meet in the review mirror.

"Miss Steele," Taylor acknowledges with a genial smile.

Christian slides in beside me, clasps my hand, and gently kisses my knuckles. "Hi," he says softly.

My cheeks turn pink, knowing that Taylor can hear us, grateful that he can't see the scorching, panty-combusting look that Christian is giving me. It takes all my self-restraint not to leap on him right here, in the back seat of the car.

Oh, the back seat of the car... hmm. My inner goddess strokes her chin gently in quiet contemplation.

"Hi," I breathe, my mouth dry.

"What would you like to do this evening?"

"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."

I beam at him.

"I see," he says with a wickedly salacious grin. "So... begging it is, then. Do you want to beg at my place or yours?" He tilts his head to one side and smiles his oh-so-sexy smile at me.

"I think you're being very presumptuous, Mr. Grey. But by way of a change, we could go to my apartment." I bite my lip deliberately, and his expression darkens.

"Taylor, Miss Steele's, please."

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

"So how has your day been?" he asks.

"Good. Yours?"

"Good, thank you."

His ridiculously broad grin reflects mine, and he kisses my hand again.

"You look lovely," he says.

"As do you."

"Your boss, Jack Hyde, is he good at his job?"

Whoa! That's a sudden change in direction? I frown. "Why? This isn't about your pissing contest?"