I, Anastasia Rose Steele, take thee, Christian Trevelyan-Grey, to be my lawful wedded Husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I give thee my troth.
I wake up with a huge fucking smile on my face, still hearing the echo of words from a really fantastic dream.
Ana is like a drug to me: she calms me, warms me, heals me, excites me – she completes me. I just cannot get enough of this beautiful, amazing woman. I didn’t think I was capable of the love I feel for her. Fuck knows I don’t deserve her but for some reason that I will never understand, she loves me. She wants to be with me and she’s agreed to marry me.
And maybe, once we’ve exchanged our vows, and she’s said the words ‘for richer for poorer’ she’ll be able to accept the wealth and lifestyle that comes with being my wife. Maybe.
‘For better for worse’: well, she’s the ‘better’ and I’m the ‘worse’ but I can live with that – if she can. I’ve always known it’s true, so it’s not like it’s telling me anything I didn’t know.
‘To love, cherish, and to obey’: I have no problem with that. I’ve loved her almost from the first moment I saw her, certainly from the first night we spent together – even though I didn’t have a word for what I was feeling at the time.
And I will cherish her. My God, I will cherish her. I want to protect her and take care of her, and every fucking day I will remember why I am the luckiest son of a bitch on earth. She’ll be mine – really mine. And I’ll be hers.
I love to watch her when she’s sleeping. Her beauty is translucent and she seems to glow from within – her goodness, her kindness, her decency. There isn’t a single thing I don’t love about this woman. She looks so fragile and breakable but she’s strong. I know how strong she is. All the shit I’ve put her through, all my fucked-upness and she just keeps on loving me. I don’t know how she does that and I sure as hell don’t know why she does it. I just want her to keep on loving me, like she’s promised to do. Because there is no power on earth that will stop me loving her.
She starts to wake up. Her eyelids flutter and a smile curves those beautiful, full lips. I wait for the moment when her astonishing eyes will look up at me and I’ll see her love reflected in them.
She stretches sleepily, knowing I’m awake already.
“See anything you like, Mr Grey?”
“Oh, Miss Steele – more than like.”
And finally, her eyes blink open and again their blueness and clarity take my breath away.
“Sex or breakfast?” she says, echoing my words from a few weeks ago – and definitely reading my mind.
She knows me so well.
* * * *
Mrs Jones has prepared pancakes for Ana, by special request, along with bacon and maple syrup. My girl is hungry and I’m glad to see her eating so well. Breakfast sex always gives her an appetite. I have my usual egg-white omelet and black coffee. I rarely eat a heavy breakfast and I’ve booked a session with Bastille just before lunch; another good reason for not eating too much.
“I’m going to be late tonight,” says Ana, whilst running her eyes across one of her endless manuscripts. “I’m meeting Mia and your mother to go over wedding plans. Apparently my decision on the hors d’oeuvres is absolutely essential.”
She rolls her eyes and I can’t help smiling at her. As long as she’s not rolling her eyes at me, that’s just fine. On the other hand, eye-rolling is forever associated with twitchy palms in my mind, and that’s very fine indeed. Fuck. Now I’m thinking about it, I’m getting very fucking hopeful that Ana will roll her eyes at me. But I’m sure I’ll find some other transgression that deserves a gentle chastisement. Maybe with the silver balls.
Fuck. I’m really going to have to get my mind on something else or I’ll be going to work with a granite hard-on again.
“Yes, the hors d’oeuvres is certainly your department.”
She raises her eyebrows.
“And why is that, Mr Grey? Won’t you be attending this wedding?”
“Baby, wild horses and a Sherman tank couldn’t keep me from marrying you.”
“I’m very glad to hear it. But we should make time to work on our vows – we haven’t got that many days left to do it.”
I’m confused. Did I hear her right?
“Our vows? What about them?”
She cocks her head to one side and gives me a puzzled stare.
“Our wedding vows, Christian. We need to work on them. I want them to be perfect – to say everything we want to say. It’s important.”
“What are you talking about, Ana? We don’t have to write vows – it’s already been done. ‘I promise to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part’; you promise ‘to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part’. See, easy. Job done.”
She looks at me with a mixture of impatience and amusement that really makes me want to take her over my knee. But probably not while Mrs Jones is hovering in the background.
“Christian! I’m not saying that!”
“Not saying what?”
Sometimes I have no fucking idea what she’s talking about: God, she’s adorable.
“Christian, I’m not going to promise to obey you!”
And all the air leaves my lungs. What the fuck? Calm, Grey, calm. She’s teasing you.
“Of course you are: that’s what the vows say. Women have been saying that for hundreds of years.”
“Well, I’m not saying that. I want us to write our own vows – special and unique to us. And you can bet your R8 that I’m not going to be obeying you. Honestly, Christian!”
“Yes, you fucking are!”
The words come out louder than I’d meant. From the corner of my eye I see Mrs Jones beating a hasty retreat.
“No. I. Am. Not,” says Ana, a mulish expression on her face.
“Yes, you are!” I repeat, staring her down.
She quails slightly, then squares her shoulders.
“I am not a submissive,” she says, in a scarily quiet voice. “I never was and I never will be. Deal with it, Christian.”
And she gets up and walks out of the room.
What the fuck just happened?
My head is spinning. Of course she’s got to obey me! How can I keep her safe if she won’t do what I tell her? She doesn’t realize what a fucked up place the world is. She has to obey me. I have to make her see sense.
I follow her into the bedroom.
But she doesn’t let me finish.
“Christian, it doesn’t matter what you say: I will not be obeying you.” There’s a deafening silence. “I’m going to work.”
She picks up her briefcase and leaves the room. Again.
Fuck! She really means it.
She is so not going to walk away from me.
I turn to follow her but she’s already disappearing into the elevator with Sawyer and Taylor is waiting for me, pretending that he hasn’t heard the tail-end of that exchange.
I move automatically, collecting my laptop, following Taylor into the elevator, climbing in the back of the SUV. But my brain is somewhere else, cartwheeling down the freeway – and I’m going to fucking crash.
I can’t explain the panic I feel welling up in me. Anastasia doesn’t understand! I can’t live without rules, I just can’t. Suddenly, I’m thrown back into all those feelings of a fucked up fifteen year old, spiraling out of control. I’m falling into this dark pit in slow motion and Ana’s just cut my safety rope.
I feel the sweat break out all over my body and my breathing escalates rapidly. Fuck, I’m having a full on panic attack.
“Are you alright, sir?” says Taylor.
His dark eyes are watching me in the rear-view mirror.
“Yes,” I say, curtly, although it’s very far from the truth.
I take some deep breaths and try to get a fucking grip.
By the time I get to Grey House, I’m beginning to breathe more naturally. I’ve got wall-to-wall meetings so it goes some way to distracting me from my dark thoughts. Ros is throwing me puzzled looks: she can tell I’m only half there. It’s not like me to be utterly focused but who the fuck am I if I don’t have the rules in place? I need them. Anastasia needs them: she just doesn’t know it. That’s what I’ll do: I’ll persuade her. I’ll make her see sense.
And for a few hours that seems possible.
Claude spends a happy 40 minutes kicking the shit out of me.
“Come on, Grey! You’ve been on your ass on the floor so many times, I’m beginning to think you like it down there!”
I try again, coming at him with a spinning back kick, but he dances out of the way and floors me with a quick jab and uppercut that snaps my chin back.
“Where is your head at, Grey? Come on!”
I’m panting like a lame dog, shaking my head as if all the bad thoughts will just drop out.
“You okay, man?” Claude’s expression is sympathetic. “Wedding nerves, huh? I get that.”
I glare at him and he smirks back. Fuck! I really want to land him on his ass! But it’s not going to happen today and he knows it. Bastard!
Things don’t improve much in the afternoon: the PR department is going crazy with all the fucking calls about the wedding. Haven’t those hack journalists got anything better to do, for fuck’s sake?
Sam is desperate for me to issue a statement but the only fucking statement I’ve got for the Press is no fucking comment and, unsurprisingly, Sam won’t tell them that.
I try to plan out in my head what I’m going to say to Anastasia to make her see sense. She’s a smart woman – she’ll understand.
A nagging voice at the back of my head argues that she won’t. And I can’t help thinking that it’s right.
But I do know one way to make her understand.
So while I’m waiting her to get back from meeting with mom and Mia, I dress to impress. Or rather undress. I pull on my ripped jeans, my playroom jeans as she calls them. I know they’re her favorites and I know what they do to her. A snug-fitting black T-shirt completes the look I’m going for.
And I wait.
I know she’ll have had a couple of drinks, so she’ll already be less able to argue with me. Good. I have no intention of playing fair.
I sit at the piano and play Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz. It’s perfect: I’m feeling a little devilish.
Over the swirling notes I hear the elevator doors hiss open at last. I stop, mid note, and rise slowly from the piano stool.
“Good evening, Miss Steele.”
“Hello, Christian,” she says, a little breathlessly.
I smile at her, a gleam in my eye. Good! It’s working.
I pace towards her, slowly, so she’ll see my intent and know that I won’t be denied.
She backs away slowly, a rosy flush rising to her cheeks. My body responds and I grow hard immediately, my body craving contact with hers.
“Christian, no. We need to talk…”
“We can talk later, Miss Steele. Much later.”
“Christian! You are not going to dazzle me with your sexpertise!”
“Are you sure about that?”
I halt, a bare millimeter from her, letting the heat from my body soak into hers.
“I’m not going to obey you,” she says in a whisper that has a slight tremor to it.
“Why not? It’s traditional. It’s…”
“I’m not saying it,” she says, more loudly this time.
And it’s there again: that panic rushing through me. I can’t let her see me like this. I turn on my heel, seeing the look of pain on her face.
I head to my study and collapse at my desk, my brain reeling.
She has to obey: she has to understand. I can’t do this without rules. I can’t. Why won’t she understand? She knows that I need this. What if something happened to her? What if I couldn’t protect her because she was disobeying me? Fuck, no! She has to understand.
And even though I’m staring out of the window, I feel her presence behind me. She lays her soft hand on my neck and I lean into her touch, aching to feel her, aching to bury myself in her.
“Christian, please. Don’t be like this. It’s so… I want our vows to show who we are as people – to show our love for each other – not just repeat some old words.”
But it’s her words that infuriate me.
“I’m busy, Anastasia. Can this wait.”
And it’s not a question.
She sighs and turns to go.
I’m desperate to run after her: I’m like a man dying of thirst in the desert without her touch. Death Valley – in an office thirty stories up, overlooking half of Seattle.
The failing sun throws blazing arrows, flashes of red light glinting off a thousand windows. Slowly the darkness creeps over the city. And I sit.
The apartment is quiet. Mrs Jones and Taylor, wisely, haven’t come near me since supper. Nor has Ana, since I snarled at her to leave me alone. She’ll be asleep by now: my beautiful angel, lost in dreams. Good ones, I hope.
In silence, I drift into our bedroom. Our bedroom. Not just mine anymore. We’re trying to forge a future together and once again I manage to derail it. What is the matter with me? How have I let myself get to this stage? Again. I’m not 15: I’m a successful, fucking successful, wealthy and respected businessman – and I’m completely falling apart.
I gaze down at her. God, she’s so beautiful. Her mahogany hair is spread out like silk across the pillow and her lips are parted, breathing softly. There’s a small frown line between her eyebrows so I know she’s thinking of me – of me in all my fifty shades of fucked-upness.
I undress quietly and ease myself into bed beside her. She murmurs something but doesn’t wake. I breathe in the delicious scent of her hair.
I close my eyes but sleep won’t come. It’s impossible to shut off my brain which writhes and snarls like wild animals, caging the vicious beast that’s the real me.
She must never know. She must never know.
I watch the moon’s shadows creep across the wall, growing paler as the hours pass. I don’t sleep but I feel something like peace with my Ana next to me.
Eventually, as dawn approaches, I rise, wraith-like, inhuman, as if I was never there by her side.
I dress quickly and meet Taylor for our morning run.
He doesn’t speak, correctly reading my mood, and we head for the elevator.
Mist swirls around the early-morning streets as if my thoughts are trying to solidify. The animus visible. I must keep her safe. I must keep her safe.
She’s so precious: she’s my reason for living.
I barely notice that we’ve completed our six mile circuit. Fuck knows how far I’d have run if Taylor hadn’t been steering me back to Escala. I’d probably be half way to Olympia by now.
Fuck! I have to get a grip.
When we return to the apartment, Ana is sitting at the breakfast bar. Mrs Jones disappears immediately, sensing an impending argument.
Ana looks up.
“Are you talking to me now, Christian, or are you still too busy?”
Her tone stops me in my tracks; she sounds so angry, so cold. No, not my Ana! Please God, no!
But the voice that comes out of my mouth betrays me.
“Only if you’re ready to be reasonable, Anastasia. The traditional wedding vows have been good for hundreds of years; I see no reason to change them now.”
“Fine. Don’t change yours. But do not ever, and I mean ever, Christian, do not ever expect me to say I’ll obey you. Because you’d make me into a liar, and I won’t do that. I won’t let you do that to me. If you decide not to behave like an adolescent, I’ll be at your mother’s arranging our wedding.”
And once again, she gets up and leaves.
No! Don’t go!
But the voice stays locked in my throat and I can only watch as she vanishes.
I head back to my study and throw myself into work. She’ll come back. She always comes back… doesn’t she?
She didn’t say she was calling off the wedding. So I have to assume she’ll be reasonable – eventually.
So I spend Saturday working. I’d much rather have spent it making love to Anastasia but my girl is stubborn. I’ll have to be patient.
I work like fuck all day. This is what I do: this is what I’m good at. Reading the small print; understanding how a business is like a beautiful car. The outside must be sleek and aerodynamic; each tiny piece of the engine must fit perfectly; and the driver must know what the fuck he’s doing.
But do I know what I’m doing? When it comes to work, fuck, yes! But do I know what I’m doing with Anastasia? What if she isn’t reasonable? What if I can’t persuade her to change her stubborn mind? What if… what if I have to live without her obedience? Could I do it? Could I do it if it were the only way? Because I sure as hell can’t live without her.
No, don’t think about that, Grey. Give her time. Just give her time.
But when Ana walks back into the apartment her mouth is still set in a stubborn line.
“Good evening, Christian. Have you decided to see sense yet?”
I gape at her. I can’t fucking believe that she’s saying I’m the one who is in the wrong! She really is unbelievable. And that makes me fucking pissed.
I snarl at her and she backs away, a disappointed look on her face.
I retreat to my study to lick my wounds.
An hour later, I hear her soft tap on the door.
“I’ve brought you a cup of tea. I thought I could have mine here, too. If you’re not too busy.”
I utter something meaningless and her gentle sigh almost breaks my heart. She leaves the tea and trails off to bed.
Two unhappy, stubborn people at war over a stupid word.
I sip the tea. Ugh, horrible, insipid English breakfast tea. Twinings. The teabag has barely blinked at the water, let alone been allowed to steep so it have some flavor. I don’t know how Ana can drink this vile stuff. But it’s so her: my Anastasia, marching to the beat of her own drum. Fuck knows how I ever thought she’d make a good submissive. Yeah, I’m a fucking king at reading people.
I don’t even try to sleep. When I’m sure she’s not awake, I draw up my chair next to the bed and watch her. My girl. So stubborn. So beautiful.
I slip away before she wakes and try to outrun my demons again. But I never do. They always catch me. Taylor is his usual taciturn self but I can tell he’s worried. Probably worried about Anastasia. There’s definitely a bond between those two and it really fucking pisses me off. I trust Taylor with my life – in fact I’ve had to on more than one occasion, but if it weren’t for the fact I know he’s in a relationship with Gail, I’d have to seriously fucking think about keeping him on with Anastasia in the apartment. I’d have all female fucking bodyguards if it would keep my angel safe.
She’s waiting for me when we get back.
“Christian, we have to talk. I’ve had enough of your sulking.”
Sulking! I’m not fucking sulking! I’m… And suddenly I’m unsure. What the fuck am I doing?
She starts to speak and I’m mesmerised by her words:
“I give you my solemn vow to be your faithful partner in sickness and in health, to stand by your side in good times and in bad, to share your joy as well as your sorrow. I promise to love you unconditionally, to support you in your goals and dreams, to honour and respect you, to laugh with you and cry with you, and bring you solace in times of need. And to cherish you for as long as we both shall live.”
I think my mouth has dropped open and it’s hard to breathe. A pain without name fills my body.
“Christian, those are my vows – my promises to you. Please, say something to me Christian.”
But I can’t speak. I just shake my head and leave her sitting alone.
I have to get out of her. I have to… I don’t know what to do… where can I go?
Fuck, it’s Sunday. He’ll be at church with Rhian and the boys. No, it’s nearly 11am; he’ll be on his way home by now.
I pull out my cell. The good doctor is the second number on my speed dial; Anastasia is the first, of course.
“John, I need to see you. Can… Yes. Yes. Five minutes.”
I jog the remaining blocks to his office and wait outside the door, confused, agitated.
His car pulls up and I feel a brief moment of relief before the panic overwhelms me again.
“John, I need to talk…”
“Let’s get inside first, Christian.”
He’s dressed in a dark suit and white shirt. I’m not used to seeing him so formally dressed. In his consulting rooms, he usually wears an open-necked, button-down shirt.
Flynn unlocks the door to his consulting rooms and ushers me in, switching on the lights as he goes.
The familiar routine in a place where I can put order to my chaotic thoughts soothes me. A little.
Flynn sits in his usual place and I in the wingchair seat.
“Anastasia is refusing to obey me,” I blurt out.
He looks at me, waiting for more.
“I mean, in our wedding vows: she’s saying she won’t promise to obey me. How can I keep her safe, how can I protect her if she won’t do it? I stare at him, desperate.
“Has she suggested an alternative?”
“Yes,” I mumble. “It was… very beautiful. She promised to… love me unconditionally.”
I rest my head in my hands, unable to bear the weight of my thoughts.
“Promises don’t come much better than that, Christian,” he says quietly. “It’s not an easy thing to do, to love someone unconditionally.” He pauses. “Would you say that you loved Anastasia, no matter what?”
“Yes, of course!” I answer impatiently. “But that’s not what I’m talking about.”
“Actually it is,” he says calmly. “You say you love her unconditionally: surely insisting that she ‘obeys’ you to earn that love, is not unconditional.”
I blink up at him.
“I’m… I’m not insisting…” Am I? “How will I keep her safe? If anything happened to her…”
“Christian, you cannot control the whole world. You cannot wrap Anastasia in bubble wrap to protect her, no matter how much you might want to. She’s a strong, determined, loving young woman: she doesn’t want a gilded cage. And nor do you, not really.”
I wouldn’t be so sure about that, doctor.
“You love her liveliness and her energy. How many times have you sat her and smiled while you’ve told me how she’s challenged you?”
“So she’s written her own vows?”
“And have you written yours?”
I shake my head. “That was done several hundred years ago, John, as well you know.”
He smiles. “Not what I was asking, as well you know. Let me ask you this: do you want Anastasia to be your submissive?”
“No, of course not!” Not anymore.
“Then why are you insisting that she obey you? Because I have to tell you, Christian, it’s not going to happen – not with Anastasia. You’ve spent years in a system of relationships that is rigid and confined: far beyond the workings of most Dominant/Submissive agreements, in fact. Anastasia is the woman you fell in love with: none of the others. You have chosen to step outside your set of rules. You made that choice by falling in love with Ana. Now you have to write a new set of rules: rules where you promise to love her unconditionally no matter what. You have to decide whether or not you can… because Ana has already decided that she wants her life to be with you.”
Just hearing him say those words brings some order to my whirling thoughts. Yes, my Ana has chosen me, fuck knows why, but she has. Can I make the same choice? Too late, I already have: without Ana I have no life.
I stand ready to leave.
“Thank you, John. I was beginning to…”
“I know. That’s ok, Christian. Anytime. In fact, next time, could you make your urgent appointment before the kindergarten choir sing the full-length version of ‘All things bright and beautiful’?”
“I’ll do my best, John.”
We shake hands.
On the way back to Escala, I walk slowly, going over his words. Can I do this? Can I find a way? I want to.
The apartment is quiet. There’s a note on the breakfast bar.
“Have gone to spend day with Kate. Girls’ stuff. Miss you. Love, Your Ana xx”
My study is suddenly a refuge from the overwhelming pain I feel. When I hear her return, I don’t look up.
“I’m back, Christian,” she breathes.
I nod, hearing her sigh.
It’s my dark night of the soul. I love her so much it scares me. Can I live without my precious rules? I don’t know. But for her, I will try.
I sit at my desk and think of all the words I should say to her and slowly I write them down. I’d have engraved them on my stony heart if I could.
I solemnly vow that I will safeguard and hold dear and deep in my heart our union and you.
Yes, I will keep you safe, forever. I will never let you go.
I promise to love you faithfully, forsaking all others, through the good times and the bad, in sickness and in health, regardless of where life takes us.
I’ll never want anyone else: only you, Anastasia. It’s only ever been you. I will love you whatever life throws in our way, whichever road we travel.
I will protect you, trust you, and respect you.
You are so strong and brave. You have my respect. I will give you my trust. I will protect you, always.
I will share your joys and sorrows and comfort you in times of need.
I want to share your life, Anastasia. I want to hear your laugh and wipe away your tears. There will never be anyone else for me.
I promise to cherish you and uphold your hopes and dreams and keep you safe at my side.
I will give you the world, my Ana, and protect you from it, holding you every day of my life.
All that is mine is now yours.
I give it willingly, lovingly because without you, it is meaningless.
I give you my hand, my heart, and my love from this moment on for as long as we both shall live.
Always in my heart, my Ana. I love you.
I lay down my pen feeling a peace and quietness flood through me; a feeling that I’ve not known for the last three days. Finally, my mind can rest. And so can my body.
I undress in silence and lie down next to this wonderful woman. I fold my body around hers, breathing in her delicious scent. She mumbles something and my heart thrills when I realize she’s saying my name. My Ana. She always forgives me.
Finally, I sleep.
No, no, no, no! Don’t touch me! Don’t touch me! Nooo! You’re hurting me! Don’t let him touch me! Hurting me! Hurting me!
My heart is pounding and I’m covered in a cold, clammy sweat. Fuck! Another fucking nightmare! Not that one, please God, not that one.
I feel her warm, soft hand on my cheek.
“It’s ok, Christian. It’s going to be ok.”
“Ana. You’re here.”
“Of course I’m here.”
“I had a dream…”
“I know. I’m here, I’m here.”
“Hush, I’m here.”
“Please let’s not fight.”
“The vows. No obeying. I can do that. We’ll find a way.”
My words rush out in a tumble of emotion and confusion and anxiety.
“Yes. We will. We’ll always find a way.”
She kisses me, silencing me, bringing me back to the now.