Kate and Elliot’s First Night

How ‘wild’ was their first night?

Christian isn’t the only naughty boy in the Grey family.

I hope Ana’s going to be ok. She’s such a lightweight! Perhaps I shouldn’t have let her drink so much, she’s not used to it. Oh well, she’s a grown up, and José is looking after her; she’ll be fine.

Hmm, I think I’ve drunk quite a bit, too. But I’m definitely not drunk enough to succumb to Levi’s limited charms. He’s a pretty good photographer but I’m so not interested. You’d think he’d get the message. Maybe I’ll go dance; that’ll burn off some of the alcohol. No point waiting for Ana, she almost never dances. She thinks she can’t, which is dumb, of course.

“Where’s Anastasia?”

What the fuck is he doing here?

I’m staring up at the angry face of Christian Grey. My brain has gone into neutral; I don’t know whether that’s the effect of the alcohol of the shock at seeing the ‘reclusive billionaire’ in this student dive.

“Ana – where is she?” he’s almost shouting at me.

“Er… she went outside to get some air. Hey, what…?”

He yells something to the guy standing next to him and turns on his heel. Oh! The guy standing next to Christian Grey is cute! Mmmm, yum, very cute.

“Sorry about Christian, he gets like that. I’m Elliot, his big brother.”

Oh! “Hello, Elliot Grey.”

“And you’re Kate, Ana’s friend.”

“Yes, Kate Kavanagh. Sorry, but why is he here?” I can’t help asking. Is it about those books?

Elliot shrugs. “He was worried about her – about Ana. She called him…”

She did?

“He couldn’t get here fast enough; I just happened to be with him. And I’m very glad I was.” He pauses and flashes me the most knee-trembling smile. “Would you like to dance Kate Kavanagh?”

Would I?!

“Ok.”

He takes my hand and helps me up. Oh, he’s tall. Mmm, the way his T-shirt clings to his chest beneath his shirt. I like! I like a lot. And those blue eyes. Oh, boy, dimples! They do something to a girl. Ok, they’re doing a lot to me.

The music is a techno beat, pumping, loud; it’s music to lose yourself to. And Elliot can dance. Unlike most men, he looks like he’s enjoying himself. Thank god he’s got rhythm; I hate dancing with people who really shouldn’t. I’m glad it’s crowded, it means we’re dancing close together. I wouldn’t mind being closer!

And I really let myself go, moving, curving, bending, flexing to the music, losing myself in the ocean of his intense gaze. What is it Ana would say? Oh, that’s right… Oh my!

Too soon Christian is back, towing a pale looking Ana behind him. He shouts something in Elliot’s ear; Elliot grins back at his brother, then, unexpectedly but delightfully, he pulls me into his arms. I can feel the heat from his body against mine, the muscles in his chest.

I’m admiring the view when he dips me, almost to the floor. I laugh out loud and cling onto him. His matching smile is mesmerising. Slowly, he pulls me upright and stares into my eyes. My smile slips away and desire pulses through me. He’s still staring, asking my permission, challenging me, daring me. I raise my arms and run my hands down the back of his neck. He closes his eyes for a second; when they open again, they’re blazing at me. I pull his head down and his lips are on me. The speed of his assault takes me by surprise but I’m not letting this chance go by. I force my tongue into his welcoming mouth and we’re joined together in an embrace that should set the whole room on fire. I run my hands down his back and he tightens his hold. Boldly, I push my hands into the back pockets of his jeans and pull his groin towards me. I’m beyond thrilled to feel his erection pushing into me, despite the barrier of clothing.

It feels like the length of a heartbeat when pulls away, his eyes almost wild, feral.

“Christ, Kate!”

It’s all he can manage, before our mouths meet again. This seedy bar has dissolved around us, and we’re the last two people on the planet; I’m cocooned by the thrill of his touch.

He pulls away again and we’re both panting.

“Let’s go to my place,” I say hoarsely.

He nods without speaking and at double speed he’s pulling me through the crowds and out of the door.

The air outside is cooler and I realise I’ve left my jacket inside. I don’t care; the whole of Seattle could go vanish into the sea and I wouldn’t care.

Before we get to the cab rank, I see an alley behind the club. I pull Elliot behind me and he doesn’t hesitate. He pushes me roughly up against the wall, and I can feel the brickwork through my thin T-shirt.

The small part of my brain that is still rational watches dispassionately at this depraved woman who is running her hands all over a man she’s only just met: in his hair, across his chest, down his back, forcing one hand into the front of his jeans, feeling the hardness of his own passion.

And he doesn’t hesitate. His hands are under my T-shirt, stroking and kneading my breasts, his teeth biting my neck. One hand moves down to the front of my jeans and he slips it inside, inside me.

“Oh god, Kate! Are you sure about this? Here, now? Because the way I’m feeling…”

And I can’t believe I’m saying this. “Yes, here, now.”

He groans and pulls back, staring at me, checking that I mean the words that have erupted from my mouth.

From the inside pocket of his jacket, he pulls out a condom and hands it to me.

I rip open the packet, almost dropping the slippery little piece of rubber in my haste and excitement. Hungrily, I unzip his jeans and pull his erection free. Oh fuck! That’s a lot of Elliot Grey!

At my touch, I hear a sharp intake of breath and he grips hold of my shoulders, almost glaring at me with the intensity of his need. I manage to concentrate for one vital second and roll the condom down his not inconsiderable length. He closes his eyes and bites his lip.

“Kate,” he whispers.

Then slowly, deliciously slowly, he pulls down my zipper, sliding one finger back inside me. I’m so turned on I’m afraid I’m going to come immediately. He smiles, a salacious smile and pushes another finger inside and that’s it; I’m lost. Before I’ve finished he yanks down my jeans and panties in one swift move and impales me sharply. It’s delicious, so full, almost painful. And he moves quickly, a frantic rhythm, stifling his moans in my neck.

All too soon, it’s over and we’re both breathless and weak.

“Jesus, Kate. That was…”

I laugh, an embarrassed sound. “I guess that’s what they call it a knee-trembler.” I don’t know what came over me: I have never, never behaved like that in my life. I would have called any girl who’d behaved like that a fool or a tramp – I can’t look at him. I couldn’t blame him for treating me like a whore, because that’s how I’ve behaved, isn’t it?

I feel his hand on my cheek and he gently lifts my lips to his.

“Sweet, sexy Kate.”

And he kisses me softly, yet passionately. He’s smiling.

“Do you think we can risk getting in a cab now; we might even make it back to your place this time!”

He’s laughing at me, but it’s a kind sound. Even so, I feel the need to give him some sort of explanation.

“I… I don’t know what came over me. I’ve never… never done anything like that before!”

His smile disappears. “Are you sorry?”

Only if you leave now.

“I don’t believe I am.”

His wicked smile is back. “Good. Now, about that cab?”

There’s no line, so we jump in the first cab we see. I give the driver my address and Elliot slides in next to me. He holds my hand and kisses the back of it gently. My body is instantly on high alert. I’ve never felt so… so desirable. And I want him again, badly.

His eyes are burning and I’m about ready to crawl over the seat to the front and slam my foot on the accelerator to get us home faster.

Suddenly reason comes back to me.

“Oh no! I’ve left Ana! We have to go back.”

He smiles. “Don’t worry about Ana; my little brother is taking care of her.”

“Christian?”

“Yes. Honestly, she’ll be fine.” He pauses. “I’ve never seen him like that with a girl; it’s unusual for him to… date.”

Oh, I’m not sure about this: leaving my best friend with Mr Control Freak.

“Kate, relax. He’ll take her back to the Heathman to sober up. She’ll be fine. He’s a good guy – he won’t take advantage.”

Hmm. I’m not so sure, but I don’t really see what I can do about it.

“I’ll just send her a quick text.” I pull my cell out of my pocket.

Gently he takes it from me. “I promise you, Katy, Christian won’t hurt your friend; he just hasn’t got it in him.”

I don’t like being told what to do but somehow his serious blue eyes tell me it’s going to be alright.

We get to the duplex and he pays the driver and helps me out of the cab. The cool night air and the cab ride have definitely helped to sober me up. This certainly isn’t how I expected tonight to pan out: coming home with a strange man that I just… Oh god! I can’t even bear to think about how I’ve behaved tonight!

“So, this is where you live?”

“Yes. With Ana.”

“Nice.”

I feel like a teenager; I’m almost too embarrassed to look at him.

“Are you going to invite me in… or would you rather I left?”

No! Don’t go!

“I’m sorry, I just feel… embarrassed. I don’t… I mean, I’ve never… You must think I’m such a…”

He places a finger against my mouth. “No, I don’t think that. I think you’re beautiful and bold and brave – and you take my breath away.”

Oh!

“And I would very much like to come in and make love to you, Kate.”

Oh!

“Kate?”

I realise I haven’t answered.

“Yes, I’d like that, too.”

He smiles that devastating smile.

I fumble for my key and let him in, putting on the lights as I go.

“Would you like a drink?”

“No,” he says, his eyes bright. And before I know it, he’s picked me up and slung me over his shoulder. “Which is your bedroom?”

I can’t stop laughing. “Left!”

He kicks the door open and throws me on the bed; now I’m the one who’s breathless as he stares down at me, his eyes bright with lust and determination.

“Oh, Kate, you’re so beautiful.”

“And you’re too far away. C’mere, lover boy!”

“Happy to oblige, ma’am!”

He dives onto the bed making the whole frame shudder. I’m half way between laughing and wanting to rip his clothes off. I opt for the latter, sending buttons flying in all directions from his shirt.

He tears my T-shirt over my head and pushes his face into my breasts.

“Oh, god!” he moans.

I’m pawing at his T-shirt, all hands and lips and legs intertwined.

He sits up suddenly and yanks it over his head. His chest is broad and strong and answers every promise the tight-fitting T-shirt made.

“Not enough; I want you naked,” I manage to say.

“Anything you say, ma’am.”

He kicks off his boots and I rip off his trousers and boxers.

Oh, yum! He’s really pleased to see me.

Then I leap on him and pin him to the bed and kiss him through his laughter.

He rolls me over and presses me into the mattress.

“This is a bit unfair,” he says. “I think you should be naked, too.”

“Well, what are you going to do about it?” I challenge him.

“This!”

He unzips my jeans slowly, torturously. And suddenly my heart is in my mouth.

“Now, whatever shall we do now, sweet Kate?”

 

*  *  *  *

When I wake up, or I should say, when I finally regain consciousness, sun is pouring through the window in a most un-Portland sort of way. And this glorious man, with his mop of blond curls is leaning his head on his elbow, a cheeky grin plastered across his face.

“Hey there, baby!” he says.

“Hey there, yourself!”

And he leans down to kiss me, a sweet, morning kiss, that soon becomes an urgent, desperate demand. Again. And again.

I flop back, exhausted. I had no idea spending all this time in bed could be so tiring! I’m ready to go back to sleep but Elliot’s phone keeps beeping until he looks at his text.

“I’d better get that. Oh, it’s from Christian: he says Ana is fine and that she’s sleeping off a hangover. Poor kid. She looked pretty wasted.”

Yes. I’ll certainly be speaking to Steele about that!

“Is he bringing her back here?”

“I don’t know. I’ll give him a call.”

He wanders into the living room completely naked and unashamed. It’s a sight that makes me very hungry. Who is this licentious creature that’s been unleashed?! I look in the mirror and try to tug a brush through my well-fucked hair, but it’s no use; I still don’t recognise the bright-eyed vixen who stares back.

Elliot is on his phone. I don’t think he knows I can hear him.

“Hi, Christian, d’you get laid?”

I listen, breathless, for the answer. Oh, Ana!

“Who’s with you?”

What?! No! Tell me! What did he say?

“Hi, Ana!”

Oh, Ana must be with him; she must be able to hear this.

“Heard a lot about you.”

She says something and laughs.

“Sure!”

And he ends the call.

“What was all that about?” I’m burning with curiosity.

“Christian’s bringing Ana back now.”

“Now?!” I leap up and drag on some clothes. I’m not having Mr Megabucks catch me in a robe! Elliot laughs and rummages around for his clothes which are scattered around my room.

“This shirt has seen better days,” he says ruefully.

“Oh, I’m so sorry!” I bleat, my face turning puce.

“No problem. A trophy from a memorable night… and morning.”

“A trophy?” I turn to him, a horrified expression on my face.

“I didn’t mean it like that, sweet Kate. A memento.” He pauses. “Can I see you tonight? Maybe we could have dinner? Whatever you like.”

Whatever I like! I just want to see you!

“That… that would be great.”

He beams at me. “I thought you were going to say ‘no’ for a second. I’m really glad you didn’t.”

He sweeps me into his arms and kisses me into oblivion.

Hell! I’m going to have to wait till this evening – that’s hours and hours away!

“What are you doing today?” I manage to mutter between kisses.

He leans back, his eyes bright and takes a deep breath.

“Christian and I are going hiking.” He shrugs. “It’s kind of our thing. I don’t get to see my baby brother that much.”

“No, no, of course. I just wondered.”

I glance out of the window when I hear a car pull up. “They’re here.”

I go sit at the dining table and try to breathe naturally. Elliot follows, dressed at last, and sits next to me. He winks and holds my hand.

I watch carefully as Ana walks in. She looks pale and a little overwhelmed. She also looks… nervous. Why? What’s he done to her? I frown at Mr Megabucks and he stares back, his face impassive. He’s so cold; not like Elliot.

“Hi Ana!” I leap up and hug her tightly, then hold her at arms’ length to study her face. She flushes and looks down. I’ll speak to you later, young lady!

I realise, belatedly that I’m being rude. “Good morning, Christian.”

“Miss Kavanagh.”

Jeez! What a stiff!

“Christian!” says Elliot, amused by his brother’s formality, I think. “Her name is Kate.”

“Kate.” Christian nods politely. Oh fuck off.

I love it when Elliot gets up and gives Ana a big, warm, Elliot-style hug. “Hi Ana!” Ok, that’s enough hugging of Ana now!

“Hi Elliot,” whispers Ana, looking pleased but embarrassed.

“Elliot, we’d better go,” says Christian. Control freak!

“Sure.” Before I know what he’s doing he sweeps me into his arms and kisses me hard, then dips me to the floor, just like he did last night. I can’t help but giggle. This isn’t me!

“Laters, baby!”

Oh, yes! Laters! Lots and lots more laters, please!

Christian whispers something to Ana and she smiles shyly but he doesn’t kiss her or hug. Cold bastard. “I’ll pick you up at eight,” he says to Ana.

I so am going to find out what’s going on!

The Grey brothers leave and it’s just me and my bestest best friend.

“So did you?” I’m almost dying of curiosity…

 


Fifty ways to Seattle

When I finally walk up onto the porch I’m dog tired. I lean on the wall and lever off my work boots, listening to them down thud onto the wood. I shuffle through the door and hear Adele calling me.

“Hi honey!”

“Hey, baby.”

“How was your day, honey?”

“Well, to tell the truth, it’s been an interesting day.”

“Really? I thought you was just drivin’ down the usual route, wasn’t you, honey?”

Adele’s right. I do the trip down from Portland to Seattle several times a month.

“You’re awful late, honey? You ok?”

She studies my face, a look of concern on hers. I know her face as well as the I-5, which is to say, like the back of my hand. I know every smile line, every frown line and pretty much what she’s thinking when she’s thinking it. I’ve made a study of her face every day for the 38 years that we’ve been married.

“Yes, I’m fine, but it’s been an interesting day.”

“You sit yourself down there,” she says, opening a tab of beer for me, “and eat your supper. It’s got pretty dried up keeping warm in the oven, but I reckon it’s not ready to put out for the dogs yet.”

I love my wife: she’s a damn fine woman, but shit, sure she sure can’t cook. She says I must have a stomach lined with concrete to put up with it but it seems a small price to pay for coming home to the only person in the whole world I want to be with.

I chew my way through the toughest piece of steak this side of Texas and wash it down with ice-cold beer. A buddy told me once that Brits drink warm beer. I just don’t get that, and I’m not entirely sure he wasn’t yanking my chain.

When I’m finished Adele can barely restrain her curiosity.

“So how come you’re so late, honey? Are you going to tell me and put me out of my misery or am I gonna have to torture it out of you?”

I consider the options and decide to tell her.

“Well, I’d just passed Kelso and was making good time when I suddenly saw this guy standing at the side of the road flagging me down.”

“Oh, honey, you weren’t picking up hitchers again, were you? You know it makes me nervous when you do that.”

“Am I telling this story or you?” I say almost crossly. That woman can never let me tell a story straight.

“Well, get on with it then! Don’t drag it out like it’s some sort of state secret!”

And did I mention that she surely loves to have the last word?

“Well, this guy didn’t look like no hitcher. For one thing he was wearing a suit and tie and had real fancy shiny shoes. Except he was looking pretty hot and bothered. And then I see that he’s got a woman with him. She’s wearing a suit, too, but with high heeled pumps! In the middle of nowhere! I figured maybe they’d broken down but I couldn’t see no sign of a car. So I slowed down the truck and the look of relief told me that they’d got theirselves in some sort of bother.”

Adele is leaning on her elbows, all ears, listening to my story. And it’s only just getting interesting.

“I tell them to jump on in. And the guy is real gentlemanly, helping the woman into the cab of the truck and then climbing in after her. The woman looks all done in and she kicks off her shoes like they’re hurting her like the very devil, which I suspect they are. She says her name is Ros and that the guy is her boss and he’s called Christian. This surprises me as he looks kinda young to be anyone’s boss and she’s, well, a woman of a certain age, shall I say.”

Adele gives me a look, being a woman of a certain age herself.

“But I figure maybe he’s one of those college types who get themselves promoted ahead of the guys who’ve worked their way up. Turns out I was sorta right and sorta wrong.”

Adele rolls her eyes at me but she knows better than to try and hurry me up – it’s my story, after all.

“So I ask them how come they’re so far from anywhere. And the guy, Christian, he tells me that they were flying up from Portland to Seattle in a helicopter and had taken a side trip to go look at Mount St Helens when the engines caught fire. Imagine that! Both engines failed at the same time. Ain’t that just a shitload of bad luck? I say that to the young fella and his face gets kinda dark like he’s thinking maybe luck didn’t have anything to do with it, but he glances at the woman, at Ros, and keeps schtum. So I reckon there’s more to that story than meets the eye. I ask him what happened to the pilot, thinking maybe he’d stayed with the chopper but Ros says no and that Christian is the pilot. I wondered if he were may ex-army as he’s got a look about his eyes that says he don’t take no shit from no-one, but then I figure is hair is just too long for him to have been in the military. Anyhow, there they were, 200 feet up, fire in the engines and the helicopter just about falling out of the sky and the only thing he can do is shut the engines off and try to land somewhere flat. He must be some pilot, I’ll tell you that much.”

Adele’s eyes are as wide as a sumo wrestler’s pants.

“He manages to land on the eastern side of Silver Lake and then uses a fire extinguisher to put out the fire. But it’s all happened so quickly they haven’t been able to radio for help and, like I been tellin’ you for years, cell phones don’t work out there. So they’ve got no choice but to hike around the lake and across to the I-5 which is about four of five miles. But there aren’t any footpaths around there, just a few animal tracks and I’m not entirely sure made my animals you’d want to meet when you’re just walking out there on your hind legs. Now, Christian, he looks like a pretty fit young guy, but Ros there is high heeled pumps. Why you women insist on wearing such impractical shoes I can’t imagine!”

Adele thumps me on the arm, just like I knew she would and reminds me I like a good pair of legs in some of them stiletto shoes just as much as the next man, and tells me to get on and tell the story.

“So they’s climbing over rocks and jumping across streams and Christian figures out which way is west so they can get to the I-5 but they can’t go a straight route because it’s too hard for Ros. He’s got some fancy gizmo on his phone that shows him the direction and he manages to navigate them to the road. They’d just landed up there hot and dusty after walking for near on three hours. Ros says that four cars and one truck had passed them without stopping but then she stops talking when Christian gets that look like he’d like to beat the crap out of those folks that didn’t stop.”

“Your language!” says Adele. “I hope you didn’t talk like that in front of those nice young folks!”

“Let me tell my story my way, woman,” I tell her and she rolls her eyes at me and scoots on over to sit next to me.

“They were real hungry and thirsty so I shared my lunch with them. Well, gave it all to them, figuring they needed it more than I did. They had a few hundred dollars between them and they tried to give it to me but I couldn’t take all that money, not for a couple of baloney subs and a bar of candy. Mind you, they were so thirsty, I reckon they’d have paid that just for the soda I gave them.”

“I knew you wouldn’t take money from folks in distress,” says Adele, stroking my arm.

“Well, then Christian asks if he can use my cell phone as his has died navigating over to the freeway and Ros’s has given up the ghost, too. See, I been tellin’ you those cell phones is a waste of good money. From what I can tell he wants to call his sweetheart and let her know he’s ok. He looks as surprised as hell when I say I don’t carry one and I can tell it really bugs him that he can’t speak to her. I can see him checking in his jacket pocket to make sure he hasn’t dropped something. Ros asks him if he’s lost something and he says no and goes kinda quiet and I tell she’s as curious as hell, just like all you women. And she’s teasin’ him and teasin’ him to get him to tell her what it is. And then he starts to get mad at her and she’s laughin’ at him so I guess maybe she’s more like a friend than an employee. And she starts making’ guesses, sayin’ it must be from his sweetheart if he’s that worried about it and how cute that is. And I reckon she wears him down or else he just wants her to shut the hell up about it, so he says that yes, it’s from his girl who’s called Ana, and he can’t tell us what it is because he don’t know. Turns out that it’s his birthday tomorrow and she gave him this gift but told him not to open it!”

“Oh,” says Adele, “that’s so romantic! She must really love him!”

“What a load of baloney,” I say, “it’s damn torture, that’s what is, givin’ a fella a special gift and then not allowing him to open it. And we can both tell he’s pretty curious about what it is, but he gave Ana his word that he wouldn’t open it and he sure as hell ain’t gonna open it for Ros and me! I can tell he’s taken as much as he’s gonna about that darn present so I say that he’s one lucky bastard to have survived to have a birthday to celebrate. And then he goes real quiet and says, ‘All I could think about was that I wouldn’t see Ana again’. And then I guess that makes us all pretty quiet and I was thinking about how I’d feel if I knew I wasn’t gonna see you again, Adele, and Ros is quiet, too, thinking about her young man, I don’t doubt.”

At least that’s what I tell Adele as I don’t want to spoil a good story, but the truth is I have my doubts about whether or not Ros has a young man as I suspect her inclinations are about due south of that idea.

“What happened next, Hank?”

“Well, we were passing a truck stop and I asked if they wanted to rest there and contact their folks and I could see that Ros was pretty happy with that idea but Christian said no, he just wanted to get back as soon as possible without any more delays.”

“Well, isn’t that just like a man!” snaps Adele. “So impatient, without thinking about how his poor girl must be feeling all that time!”

And even though I feel like I’ve got to stick up for men folk in general, I can’t help agreeing with her.

“Well, anyhow, I drove them right back into the city and dropped Ros off first.”

I kinda forget to mention to Adele that Ros grabbed my face and kissed me on both cheeks saying I was her knight in shining armor. Christian looked kinda embarrassed on both our sakes but smiled and waved to her. And there she was, walking down the sidewalk in her bare feet, carrying them silly shoes and grinning to herself like she just won the lottery. Christian’s champing at the bit to get back to his Ana. He lives in one of them real fancy apartments in Escala. He climbs out of the truck and tries to give me money again and I say no, it was my pleasure helping folks in their hour of need. And here I am, Adele, honey: a real life, hero-sized knight in shining armor.”

“Oh, Hank, honey,” says Adele, “you always been my shining knight,” and she kisses me real sweet which makes me think we could be having one of our early nights. But then I look up and guess what! I see a photo of Christian on the TV.

“Turn that up, Adele, honey,” I say. “That there’s the Christian fella I was tellin’ you about.”

“You didn’t tell me he was so handsome!” she says huffily.

As if I’d have noticed a thing like that!

“Why, he’s not just some young guy,” she says. “Don’t you know who that is, Hank?”

Well, no I don’t because I don’t read those gossip pages that she finds so fascinating.

“That’s Christian Grey,” she says, “one of the richest men in America. Hmm, maybe you should have accepted that money from him; it’s not like we don’t need it.”

Well, maybe she’s right about that, because we surely could use the money but I say to her, “Well now, Adele, I guess it would have come in handy but you’re the one who’s always tellin’ me not to judge folks by the way they look, even if they’ve got pink hair and rings through their noses. In which case how can I accept money from someone who needs help just because he turns out to be rich?”

And then I’m pretty certain that I’m going to have me some lovin’ tonight because she comes over and sits her ass on my knee and kisses me real hard and tells me that she loves me. And just are things are getting good, there’s a knock at the door.

“Who on earth can that be at this hour?” she says.

I don’t care if it’s the Archangel Gabriel himself I’m feeling so damn horny for my old lady, but she gets up and goes over to the door. And there’s this young guy in motorcycle leathers saying that he’s got a delivery for me.

So I get up and go over to the door and sign for the package. And he messenger gets back on his bike and roars off into the night and Adele is fussing over him waking up the neighbors.

When I open up the package it’s a bottle of malt whisky – a real good one, and real old, from Scotland, England. There’s one of them typed cards with it. Adele picks it up and it says,

‘To Hank

From Ros and Christian

Who were grateful for the kindness of a stranger’.

Adele’s almost got tears in her eyes. “Isn’t that the sweetest thing ever?” she says. “But how did he know where to find you?”

Well, that’s a mystery to me because I didn’t tell him my name or give him my address but I figure when you’re as rich as he is, these things are as easy as falling off a log. Not that it makes me any less grateful because I figure he must have a whole parcel of things to do what with crashing his helicopter and nearly dying.

I’m trying to decide whether to try the whisky or see if I can persuade Adele to carry on where we left on when she says,

“What’s that in the box, Hank?”

I peer into the package that the whisky bottle came in and I see there’s an envelope.

“Hurry and open it!” says Adele, her eyes all bright and excited.

So I open it up and two pieces of paper drop out. The first is a handwritten note that says,

‘With gratitude. Christian Grey.’

The other is a check for $250,000.

“Oh my!” says Adele.

As for me, I have absolutely nothing to say.

 


I Vow to Thee

For Ebonie

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.

“Anastasia…”

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.

“Anastasia!”

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.

Words. Statements.

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.

“Christian…”

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.

I scowl.

“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?

Flynn.

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?”

That’s true.

“So she’s written her own vows?”

I nod.

“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.”

“Ana.”

“Hush, I’m here.”

“Please let’s not fight.”

“Okay.”

“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.

My beautiful angel.


Dinner with Elena

How did Elena persuade Christian to visit Anastasia in Savannah? What was her motivation? How ‘happy’ did she want Christian to be? Read on…

Anastasia’s emails have put me in a good frame of mind. She’s been eating, she’s called me ‘sir’ – damn, she’s challenging and witty and clever. I’ve been terminally bored for so long, and I feel alive just being around her.

I can’t wait for the weekend. Thinking about having her in my playroom again is giving me a serious hard on. It’s not conducive to keeping my mind on the road while I’m driving. I’m glad Elena suggested having dinner tonight; I need some distraction from Miss Steele. The next few days of waiting – yet again – are going to drive me insane.

Elena has chosen a small French restaurant in an unfashionable part of Seattle. She knows it’s important that I keep a low profile.

I’m looking forward to seeing her: other than Flynn, she’s the one person I can talk to; someone who knows all my shit and doesn’t care. I can relax with her in a way I can’t with anyone else – not even Anastasia.

Anastasia: I love to roll that name around on my tongue – a beautiful name for a beautiful girl. Fuck, I love to roll my tongue around her. Mind on the road, Grey!

Elena knows where to touch me. Although there was a time she forced me beyond my careful boundaries and touched me everywhere, those days are gone. She knows the no-man’s land that marks the extent of my fifty shades of fucked up. And she never, never trespasses on me, or on our friendship. I trust her. And I don’t trust many people: Flynn, my family, Ros, Elena, even Taylor and Gail, in another way. And I’m starting to trust Anastasia; not that I’ll ever be able to tell her everything. And why would I? A sweet, innocent girl like that. If she really knew how depraved and twisted I was, she wouldn’t come near me. And I wouldn’t blame her. So it’ll be better when I’ve got her signed up to being my sub. Hell, that day can’t come soon enough.

I’m nervous that she’s flown so far to get away from me. She says it’s to visit her mother and I know she hasn’t seen her for a while, but it was so sudden. Fucking Kate Kavanagh: that’s where this has come from. Christ, what does Elliot see in that interfering harridan? She’s seriously getting on my nerves. I’ll have to find a way to keep Anastasia away from her. No, I don’t want to think about that now, it’ll just piss me off.

Fuck! I can’t keep my mind off Ana for one fucking minute! How pathetic is that? It’s a good thing I’m seeing Elena; it’ll help me to clear my head a bit. Maybe I could talk everything through with her. Yeah, she’s always said I can talk to her about anything. I rarely want to, of course, but it’ll be good to have a different viewpoint, other than Flynn’s, that is.

He’s been pushing me hard with his SFBT bullshit: ‘where do I see things going with Ana’, and all that. In my fucking playroom, that’s where.

I can count on Elena to tell me what I need to hear.

She’s already sitting down when I arrive. That’s not the table I would have chosen, but I let it go.

“Good evening, Elena.”

“Christian! How nice to see you. You look… well.”

I kiss her on the cheek and she smiles, resting her hands on my upper arms.

“You look different, Christian. Why’s that, I wonder?”

Am I different? I’m excited about the possibilities with Ana, but different?

I frown. “I don’t think so, Elena.”

She smiles but knows not to argue. She fills my glass from a bottle of Sancerre that’s chilling on the table.

“So, what’s been going on with you? Mergers and acquisitions, usual Master of the Universe business?”

“Something like that. The salons seem to be doing well, despite the recession.”

“Well, we ladies need a little treat now and then.”

Whatever. “How’s the refurb going?”

“Very well. We’re reopening tomorrow as it happens. You should stop by.”

“I’m sure I can imagine it without needing to visit the salon, Elena.” For fucks sake! This is her project; I just bank-roll her. I have no interest in the beauty business. I wouldn’t even care if it lost money but Elena is too sharp to let that happen. But what does she expect? That I’ll be there with a fucking ribbon and pair of scissors?!

“So… tell me what else is going on with you.”

“What makes you think anything is going on?”

“Oh, Christian! I know you better than you know yourself! I can see it in your face. You don’t have to tell me… A new sub, perhaps?”

“Not exactly.”

“Oh?”

“Well, not yet.”

“You’ve interviewed a new sub?”

This is harder than I thought. How do I explain Anastasia?

“I met a girl that I hope will be a sub. I haven’t finalised the paperwork yet.”

Elena looks at me with surprise and displeasure.

“That doesn’t sound like you, Christian? Aren’t you taking a risk?”

“I’m not a fucking idiot, Elena!”

“No, of course not, but no paperwork? I don’t understand.”

I run my hand through my hair in exasperation.

“She’s signed an NDA, but we’re still discussing the sub contract.”

Elena pauses with her glass of wine half way to her lips.

“You’re discussing the contract? You mean the hard limits?”

“That – and other things. She’s …new …to this.”

She gapes at me – it’s not a good look.

“Christian Grey! Are you telling me that this is a regular girl you’re talking about?”

There’s nothing ‘regular’ about Anastasia – she’s special.

“She’s not a practising sub if that’s what you mean.”

She leans back in her chair, an amused expression on her face.

“That’s an interesting development. Tell me more. Where did you meet her?”

“She’s a student… was a student. She just graduated from WSUV; she interviewed me for the student paper.”

“Good heavens. That would make her, what, 22?”

“Nearly. She’ll be 22 in September.”

“Christian – I’m almost speechless. What did she make of your playroom?”

“That really is none of your fucking business, Elena.”

She looks taken aback. Who the fuck does she think she’s talking to?

“I apologise: it was the… surprise. Of course it’s none of my business but I can’t help being intrigued. Are you sure she’s not, you know, a gold digger?”

I narrow my eyes at her: careful, Elena. “She’s not like that.”

“Oh, Christian! Really!”

“What?”

“Don’t be naïve.”

I’m starting to get pissed: really pissed. “I’m pretty good at reading women, Elena,” I say coldly, “and I’m telling you Anastasia isn’t like that.”

She holds her hands up in a gesture of peace.

“That’s a pretty name.”

“A beautiful name for a beautiful girl.”

She hesitates. “Oh, Christian! It’s so good to see you like this.”

I’m puzzled. “Like what?”

She smiles. “You really don’t know, do you?”

I scowl at her: she’s laughing at me. I don’t fucking like it.

Then the clueless fucking waiter chooses that moment to interrupt us.

“May I tell you about the specials today?”

“Please,” says Elena, politely.

“We have Normandy trout with apple cider, crème fraiche and crevettes cognac avec beurre blanc, Halibut avec sauce au beurre de capres,” he says, looking at me nervously. “Or the bouillon d’awara with palm fruit.”

“I’ll have the trout,” says Elena.

“Two,” I snarl, and he hurries to scribble on his notepad and hightail it back to the kitchen. Fucking amateur – doesn’t know when to approach a table.

“Don’t take your pique out on the staff,” says Elena, raising her eyebrows. “I was looking forward to a nice relaxing dinner with you.”

I take a deep breath and attempt to control my rising temper. She leans forward and lays her hand on mine. Her skin is cool and dry. I remember that touch…

“Christian, I’m delighted for you. It’s just… not what I expected. You… dating!”

Is that what she thinks! I almost laugh out loud.

“Hardly, Elena! I’m trying to persuade her to sub for me. She doesn’t know the scene: I can’t just dive in.”

“Why not? You did.”

“That… that was different.”

She pauses. “How is the …persuasion going?”

I sigh. “She’s visiting her mother in Savannah at the moment. I’ll see her on Friday.”

“Well, I’m glad about that. I hate to think of you being in this bad temper for longer than a couple of days!”

What?! “What the fuck are you talking about?”

“For goodness sake! You’re like a cat on hot bricks! I dread to think what you’ve put your staff through this week! Taylor must be ready to shoot himself – or you.”

“Not fucking funny, Elena.”

“Christian, for an intelligent man you can be surprisingly obtuse.”

My glass hits that table harder than I meant, wine slopping over the top and onto the linen tablecloth.

“What?!”

Her eyes soften as she stares at me. “It’s quite obvious, to me at least, Christian, that this girl – this Anastasia – means a lot to you. You’re in love with her!”

And for a moment my dead heart lurches. In love? No. Surely not. No. No, that’s wrong. Elena is wrong. She must be!

She takes her hand in mine and speaks softly, as if to a child. I feel like I’m watching her from a long way away.

“Dear Christian: don’t you realise what a catch you are? I’m not surprised a sweet, innocent young college girl has captured your heart. The question is, what are you going to do about it? You have needs, Christian, we both know that. If this girl can do that for you, well, my goodness, what a lucky girl she’d be.”

And that is the crux of the matter: can… will Anastasia sub for me? I hope so. I really hope so. I need her to say yes. Waiting around for her to make up her mind is fucking killing me. I can’t bear to think about her saying no. No, I won’t let her say no. No fucking way!

“Of course,” Elena continues, “she’d have to know a bit more about the scene, but I’m sure you’ll be able to explain things to her, teach her – a man of your talents. I remember how much you enjoyed caning and suspension in particular.”

I don’t like her mentioning these things in public; you never know when someone is listening. And yet a part of my brain immediately starts imaging using these with Ana, and another part of my body immediately responds.

Elena leans back in her chair, a cool light in her eyes.

“You have to be who you are, Christian. We both know what happens to you when you repress your needs – I’d hate to see that happen to you… again. If this girl can be all these things, then that’s marvellous. I hope you’ll be very happy together.”

“I’m not fucking marrying her, Elena!”

She laughs quietly.

“Well, goodness! You had me worried for a moment – all that talk of how young and beautiful she is.”

The waiter tiptoes towards us with the entrées and timidly slides the plates in front of us.

“Where are the fish knives?” I bark at him. He nearly jumps. That’s more like it.

“Sorry, sir, madam… I’ll…” and he hurries away returning quickly with the appropriate silverware.

Elena is watching me with amusement.

“Would you like my advice, Christian?”

Would I?

She doesn’t wait for an answer.

“I think you should go to Savannah. Don’t wait until Friday. After all, what young girl isn’t going to be swept away when her amore flies across the continent on his private jet just to lay his world at her feet?”

“For fucks sake, Elena! What fanciful trash have you been reading?”

“I’m simply saying, Christian, that you are master of your destiny: why wait until Friday. Let her know how you feel now. It’s bound to have a positive effect on her. Then when you get back to Seattle, she’ll be in the frame of mind to really… play.”

I think about what she’s said, even though she’s making me fucking pissed. Yes, it would be really good not to have to wait to see Anastasia. To be able to see her, maybe tomorrow, and enjoying fucking her sweet, soft body somewhere hot and steamy, as Georgia will surely be at this time of year. I can imagine the way her clothes would stick to her and the way her delicious skin would taste of salt as I worked her up into a frenzy. Yes, I like that idea a lot.

So why shouldn’t I? I can work anywhere: I haven’t got any urgent meetings that can’t be delayed. And yes, I can get her to sign up then and there and fly her back to Seattle on the jet. And, of course, explore the pleasures of taking her in the private on-board bedroom. That would be another first.

Elena is watching me. “Wouldn’t it be better not to have to hide who you are, Christian?” she says softly. “After all, she’ll have to know sooner or later. You can’t deny yourself forever.”

Jeez. I wish she’d stop talking. I’m aching to see Ana, to hold her in my arms, to peel her out of her clothes, to… Stop the mind-fuck, Grey! Get a fucking grip!

“When you get back,” Elena continues, “tell her to come by the salon. You know I’d be only too delighted to have one of the girls attend to her as per your preferences.”

I frown. I really don’t think the dinner table is the place to discuss depilation.

“Besides, I’d be delighted to see her. From a distance, of course: your special girl.”

I don’t know if Elena is trying to needle me but it’s fucking irritating. At least the fish is good.

“I’ll think about it.”

Elena smiles. “Of course. Do as you like, Christian, darling, you always do. And you always get your own way. You’re really quite brutal: I do like that in a man, as you know. And I’m sure dear Anastasia will come to know and love the Dominant in you. I bet part of her can’t wait.”

“That’s enough, Elena.” I’m really not prepared to discuss this any further. The damn woman acts like she owns me sometimes; but I can’t deny she knows me.

I note that the waiter is watching. I nod, so he knows he’s to remove our plates.

“Would you like to see the dessert menu, madam, sir?”

“Yes, I think I’d like something sweet,” Elena says, purring out the last word.

Christ, that’s annoying.

“Sir?”

“Just bring me the cheeseboard.”

“Of course, sir.”

“Obsequious ass.”

“Christian, really! You are in a bad mood.”

“I wasn’t until I got here, Elena.”

I feel a shiver of pleasure as her face falls. I’m not your bitch – not any more.

“I’m sorry if I’ve offended you, Christian,” she says, her eyes downcast. “You know I’d never deliberately do that. I’ve just missed our little chats. It’s good to talk to someone who really knows me. I thought you felt the same.”

I sigh. “I do Elena. Just don’t push me. I’m not in the mood. By the way, how’s Isaac?”

She smiles. “Adequate. But I’m working on that.”

“Something evil, no doubt, planned for his training.”

“Why, Christian, what do you mean?”

I can’t help laughing out loud. She looks surprised, then smiles.

“I almost feel sorry for him.”

“Almost?”

“Almost,” I agree, smirking at her.

We eat our desserts in peace and she tells me her plans for extending the Esclava chain and about the new salon she’s opened in the Bravern Centre in Bellevue. I already know that Mia has dropped in for a pedicure. It’s not really mom’s thing, but she’ll book something just to show support. Probably half the clientele will be made up of mom’s infinite circle of friends. Elena is business smart. It’s one of the things I admire about her.

By the end of the meal I’ve decided to fly out to Savannah and surprise Ana. I really can’t wait for Friday. Why should I when there’s no need? What’s the point of being the CEO if I can’t take off for a few days? Ros can handle things here.

As I walk Elena to her car, the thought that I’ll see Anastasia in less than 24 hours makes me smile.

“What?” says Elena, smiling back.

“It’s been good catching up, Elena.”

“Yes, it has. Will you think about what I said?”

“Fine! Fine! Stop nagging, Elena; I’ve already got one mother, you know.”

An expression I don’t recognise flickers across her face. Whatever.

“You can call me any time, Christian. Don’t forget.”

I open the driver’s door and she reaches up to kiss me on both cheeks.

“Don’t be a stranger, Christian.”

“Bye, Elena. Don’t take it too easy on Isaac.”

“Oh, Christian! I’ll never do that.”

She drives away into the night and I smile to myself as I pull out my Blackberry. Taylor will need to get the jet prepped for take-off in two hours.

* * * *

As I drive away I smile to myself. Christian is so easy to manipulate, even now. He doesn’t even know I’m doing it. He really doesn’t learn. Once that gold-digging little bitch, that Anastasia gets a glimpse of the real Christian Grey, she’ll run away screaming at the top of her sweet little lungs. A man like that needs a real woman, not a fresh-faced little milksop.

I know what he needs! I’ve always known. One day he’ll realise that I’m the only woman who’s ever satisfied his needs. There’s a reason why the long line of subs have left or been kicked out; he must realise they can’t satisfy him like I can. It’s only just a matter of time.

And I’m certainly not going to let that little bitch get her claws into him. In love! It’s disgusting. I can hardly believe that Christian is behaving like a hormonal teenager. It’s pathetic and the sooner he sees that, the better. I’ve done him a big favor sending him off to Savannah, ready to exert his will over Anastasia. God! Even the way he says her name makes me sick!

It’s a good thing I’ve arranged to see Isaac later, because dinner has left me with a bellyache. I always arrange to see Isaac after a meeting with Christian: I have needs, too. And if I can’t have the man I created, I’ll just have to make do until I can.

It won’t be long now.

 


Bastille Day

“Claude! Get your damn ass in here! When are you going to get yourself a damn answering service? I’m tired of being your unpaid Personal Assistant!”

Michelle was yelling at me. Nothing new in that. What was it about big sisters that made them so damn bossy? Scratch that: it was probably just women in general.

“I mean it, Claude. If you want to build up your business you’ve got to get yourself organised. I’m tired of taking messages for you. I’m running a fitness centre, not a damn dating agency!”

It was true, a large number of the people who tried to book me as their personal trainer were women. Though I say it myself, I get more than my share of interested looks and a lot of women give me their cell phone numbers. But I’m not dumb enough to mix business with pleasure, even though some of my clients are so hot they could melt glass.

One of the reason my sister gets so many messages for me is that I never give out my cell phone number. My family have it, which means Michelle and her husband Stu, our mom who’s retired to Arizona and a few, serious clients.

Michelle and Stu manage a gym and fitness centre in downtown Seattle near to the Denny Triangle. They have five personal trainers on their books but since I arrived in town, I’ve been their top pro. No freakin’ surprise there. I was on the kick-boxing squad for the Beijing Olympics eighteen months ago. No, I didn’t get a medal but I came fifth, which is pretty damn good. Yeah, I’d have liked a medal: I’d have liked that a lot. But life is what happens while you’re making other plans – least, that’s what mom used to say. Get over it, get on with it: that’s what Claude Bastille says.

I lived out in LA for a couple of years and it was interesting working with actors bulking up to play roles in movies, but I’m a Seattle boy born and bred and I missed the rain. That probably sounds crazy but I’d had enough of an itinerant lifestyle, living out of a suitcase, following film productions on location. It sounds glamorous but it gets old pretty quick.

I’d been back in Seattle for three months and had got a pretty decent clientele. It worked well with Michelle and Stu: I brought clients to their gym; they recommended me to the pick of their members – people they knew who could pay my fees. I set my price high to weed out the wannabes; I didn’t waste my time on anyone who wasn’t going to be dedicated. But it had kind of worked against me: higher fees meant that the people who could afford me tended to be older guys – fat fuckers who spent too much of their time behind a desk and who thought working out once a week would be enough to ward off middle-aged spread.

I was beginning to think I’d made a mistake coming back here: I was bored and needed a new challenge. Yeah, I know: be careful what you wish for.

Michelle was sitting at her desk, up to her eyeballs in paperwork. It was one of the reasons that I had no interest in running my own gym. I didn’t want to get bogged down in First Aid, Health & Safety Certifications, employment records, staff appraisals… well, that wasn’t me.

She looked up and held out a piece of paper.

“Potential new client.”

“Who is it?”

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know? You just took a number and said I’d call?”

I gazed at her with derision. That wasn’t like my feisty sister.

“You want me to come over there and whup your hide?”

I grinned back at her.

She huffed a few times and sucked on her teeth.

“I don’t know because this guy’s driver or bodyguard or whatever, was the one who came in: said his boss was looking for kickboxing training from you. He asked for you by name, Claude. Anyway, this guy, name of Taylor, just said for you to call to schedule an appointment. That clear enough for you? Oh, and by the way, he was a serious piece of muscle himself: and he was packing.”

I frowned at her.

“He had a gun?”

“Yes. So whoever this guy is, he must be pretty damn important. Could be a good client: so don’t dismiss this one out of hand.”

I sighed. I knew she was right, but I really didn’t want to pretend to train another flabby white guy who thought he was hardcore because he was working out with an ex-Olympic brother.

I decided I’d see him once and make up my own mind.

I picked up Michelle’s phone and she slapped my hand.

“Why aren’t you using your own damn phone! I have bills to pay!”

“Because I don’t want this security guy to have my cell number.”

“Hmm.”

I figured ‘hmm’ meant ‘ok use the damn phone but be quick about it’. I grinned while she sucked her teeth at me again, and I dialled the number I’d been given.

The call was answered immediately.

“Taylor.”

“This is Claude Bastille. I understand you have a client who wants a kickboxing trainer.”

“Yes. Are you available for a training session this evening?”

That was unexpected. What the hell: I happened to be available and no particular lady to let down, so I had nothing to lose.

“Sure. Any time after 6pm.”

“7pm. I’ll give you the address.”

“Woah, wait up? I don’t make house calls. If your client wants a training session, he’ll have to come to the Yasalta Fitness Center on Olive Way. I’ll book a private training room.”

“No, that’s not acceptable. We have a fully-equipped training room on site. Double your normal fee.”

I really hate fuckers like that: they think if they throw enough money, you’ll just roll over. Well, not me. That sort of assumption makes me stubborn. It must be in the genes: I blame our mom.

“No deal, man. If your boss isn’t prepared to come here, I’m not interested.”

There was a short pause and I could hear him having a conversation in the background. He was soon back on the phone.

“You terms are acceptable providing you agree to a security sweep prior to his arrival.”

Who was this mystery man – the fucking President? I didn’t think Michelle would be too happy at the idea of having armed heavies roaming around her gym. Maybe the muscle got the picture because he said,

“It’ll be discreet.”

“It had better be, or my sister will have your ass.”

I sensed the guy smiling on the other end of the phone. Oh yeah, he’d already met Michelle. At least he knew I wasn’t joking.

“No problem. 7pm.”

He cut the call and I realized I still didn’t know who the hell I was going to be seeing. Michelle raised her eyebrows and smirked at me.

 

I was doing some warm up stretches in the private training room I’d booked later that evening, when Michelle came storming in.

“Claude! What the hell is this? Mr Taylor here says you ok-ed it for him to do a security sweep of my gym.”

Aw hell, I forgot to tell her!

“Sorry, sis. It kinda slipped my mind. He said he’d be discreet.”

Michelle was right when she said this guy looked a serious piece of muscle. He could handle himself. I guessed he was ex-military. The buzz-cut gave it away. Myself, I have some seriously cool dreads – they’re kinda my thing.

I stood up and shook hands apologetically. Damn, he had a sharp suit. I’d have to ask him who his tailor was. Taylor’s tailor, yeah, yeah.

Muttering under breath in a way that made me think I hadn’t heard the last of this, Michelle took the Taylor guy to check out the building. While I was waiting for the all-clear, I headed out into the main fitness area.

A group of women in fancy schmancy aerobic outfits were giggling together. You see them in every gym in every city: just there to trim some fat and ogle anything male in a T-shirt. Gym bunnies. I turned to see who they were looking at this time. A tall guy I didn’t recognise was running on one of the machines. I could see why they were staring: he was a good-looking bastard with a lean, hard runner’s body, in a singlet and running shorts. He was definitely new: I would have remembered seeing him before, and that coppery hair of his was pretty distinctive.

If it bugged him that the women were blatantly staring at him, he didn’t show it, but he wasn’t encouraging them either. He was listening to his iPod and focussed on running. He had a long, loose gait and I could tell he ran regularly.

I looked around the gym to see if I could guess who was the Taylor guy’s boss. Nobody fit the bill and I was beginning to feel irritated. I hated people being late.

The guy on the running machine looked at his watch then over to me. He slowed his run then turned the machine off and sauntered over.

Aw, hell. I hoped he wasn’t going to make a pass at me. He was probably one of those guys who cruised gyms using his work-out sessions as a pick-up. He certainly wasn’t looking at the ladies and one or two of them were mighty fine.

Boy, did I ever get that wrong!

“Good evening, Mr Bastille. My name is Christian Grey. My driver Taylor booked an appointment with you for me.”

He held out his hand.

I was struck dumb. This was my appointment? He couldn’t have been more than about 25 or 26. How did he rate having his own personal security? And then his name sank in. Christian Grey. The Christian Grey and Bill Gates-type rich. Shit! He’s young. Younger than me! Bastard!

Grey stared at me impassively as I shook his hand but I could tell he was amused. He was probably used to people having that sort of reaction to him.

I understood the whole security thing now. The guy was a billionaire. And it wasn’t inherited money: he’d done it all himself. This guy must have cojones the size of watermelons.

Time to be professional.

“So, Mr Grey, I understand you want to learn kickboxing?”

“Well, I want to continue studying, yes.”

“I see. What level did you get to?”

“I did a couple of smoker fights but strictly amateur. I trained with Matt Peters.”

That surprised me. This was definitely looking more interesting. If this guy could handle himself the way I thought he might, it would actually make an enjoyable change training with him. And I couldn’t wait to kick him on his smug ass.

“Let’s make a start then, Mr Grey. I’ve reserved a private training room.”

I cast an eye over the flock of women who were still staring.

“Good,” he said, without looking at them.

I went to change into my sweats and peered through the training room window. The Taylor guy had positioned himself outside. Inside Grey was doing a set of warm-up stretches. I was impressed: the guy was pretty limber.

He looked up expectantly as I walked in and stood up in one smooth move.

“Ok, we’ll do a ten minutes of warm-ups; ten minutes of reps; twenty minutes of training so I can see where you’re at; fifteen minutes of sparring, maybe; and five minutes of warm downs.”

I didn’t wait for him to agree. This was my training room and I was in charge. I thought he might try and argue but he just nodded and waited for his first instruction. That really surprised me. I’ve trained a lot of powerful guys from movie stars to state senators and they all had one thing in common: they wanted to be the ones to call the shots, and they could get pretty damned worked up when I set the pace. Grey was different.

I was certainly right about how fit this guy was; in fact I’d go so far as to say he was only slightly less fit than some of the guys I’d trained with on the Olympic squad. He had no problem with the warm-ups or reps but when it came to the training I could see he was slightly out of practice. His moves were a little slow, and too obviously telegraphed. He was good, but I was better. And if this guy wanted me to seriously train him, I wanted to know how he’d react when I showed that I was better than him, the superior fighter. Some guys can’t take it.

He moved in with a quick jab. I blocked it easily then whipped my left leg round catching him in the hip.

He went down but turned it into a break-roll. He stood up, breathing hard and rubbing his side.

“Fuck! I had that coming! I’ve got so fucking slow!”

He was angry, but at himself. Yeah, I can work this guy. I grinned at him.

“Not bad. When was the last time you sparred seriously?”

“A couple of years ago. Taylor’s thing is more regular boxing.”

He shrugged.

We sparred for another ten minutes and then worked through the warm downs.

“Well, Mr Grey, how was that for you?”

He grinned at me. “Good, until you kicked me on my ass!”

“Yeah, well, if you want to me to do it again, I can schedule a weekly appointment for you here.”

He frowned.

“No offence to your sister, Mr Bastille, but I’d rather train in my own building where it’s… private.”

I sighed. “Like I told your man, Taylor, I don’t do house-calls.”

“I appreciate that, but I’d like you to at least consider it. I have a private gym in my office building. And I’d like to schedule daily appointments – not just once a week.”

My mouth fell open in surprise. I figured a guy like Grey, busy running his billionaire empire, wouldn’t have the time or inclination to train every day.

“Not weekends,” he said. “I’m… busy on weekends.”

Figured. He probably had a girlfriend – or boyfriend – to see to his needs then. I was pretty good at reading people, but I couldn’t read Grey. At least not yet.

I made a decision: the truth was I’d really enjoyed sparring with him. It made a change to train someone who actually presented something of a challenge. Most of clients were just after general fitness training and liked the idea of having ex-Olympian do it. Grey wanted more. I was definitely in the market for more.

“Ok, I’ll come and see your gym. If it checks out, I guess I can work from there.”

He held out his hand.

“Thank you, Mr Bastille.”

 

Of course, his gym was top of the range. There was nothing left for me to complain about.

We began our five-times-a-week training schedule the next day. Except for when he was away on business, he never cancelled. I wondered how he managed to fit in everything else he did along with running his company – organisation and discipline are obviously important to him. The more I found out about him, the more extraordinary he seemed. I got the impression he didn’t need much sleep: probably as little as four hours a night. Damn, I loved sleeping.

Taylor was usually there when I arrived for our sessions. Sometimes I could see that he’d been working out himself. He didn’t talk much but he was 100% loyal to Grey. It was no shit off my shovel: I wasn’t there to chat.

One day Grey came into the training session still yelling at someone on his Blackberry.

“What the fuck are you talking about? That is such fucking shit! I said no: tell them to pull their fingers out or I’ll come down there and do it for them – then fire the fuckers.”

He threw his cell phone onto the floor in disgust. I’d never seen him lose it before. He was always such an in control kind of guy. I realized that he’d only shown me one side to himself before; there was a lot more under the surface.

That evening we really went at it and he came close to landing me on my ass but I just managed to avoid him. He had a look in his eye that I’d never seen before: totally driven. It was part of what made him so successful, I guess. But he still couldn’t beat me and I could see that it frustrated the hell out of him.

“Fuck it!” he yelled.

I couldn’t help smirking at him. For a moment I thought he was going to lose it and I’ve have to knock him back for real, but then he grinned at me.

“I have to play fucking golf tomorrow,” he said. “What a fucking waste of time.”

It was the first time I’d ever heard him say anything the least bit personal in three months of seeing him almost every day.

“You don’t like golf? So why play it?”

He shrugged. “A lot of business is done on the fairways.”

That was true.

I spent a lot of time at Rainier, a challenging 18-hole course, and also at West Seattle.

“We should play a round some time, Grey,” I said cordially.

He raised his eyebrows. “You play golf? You like golf?”

I laughed at his expression. “Sure. You should check out my handicap. I could probably help you improve your game.”

“Fuck!” he laughed. “You kick my ass in here – you may as well kick it out on the greens too. I bet Giuseppe DeNatale doesn’t play golf,” he murmured to himself.

I smiled: there weren’t many of clients who could take a beating without sulking about it. I found myself looking forward to seeing what Grey could do on a Links course.

He arranged for us to meet at the Ritz of Washington golf clubs: a challenging par 71 layout, with amazing views of the Cascade mountain range. In one way I wasn’t surprised: it was a top quality course and sometimes used in pro-am series. It cost thousands to be a member and you couldn’t even get to be a member unless your great, great grandaddy had been a member. When I’d looked around some while back, it had all been very polite but I’d got the impression that a black guy with dreads was not the kind of member they were looking for. So it amused me to see the same fuckers kowtowing to me now that I was with Grey. Amused me and made me pissed, too. I wondered whether Grey had chosen the place deliberately. It would be his sort of play.

I wasn’t surprised to see that Grey wasn’t bad at golf: his drive was good and his putting was adequate, but unlike the kickboxing, I could tell he wasn’t really into it. I was also surprised that he introduced me to a number of the influential names we met out there. He didn’t even say I was his trainer; he just introduced me as Mr Claude Bastille, which I thought was kinda cool.

Of course, I whupped his ass out on the fairways, too, but it didn’t bother him like it did when he had a bad day kickboxing.

Thanks to his introductions, I was getting more offers of work than I could handle and today I was having to reschedule one of our appointments. As I was in the area, I decided to wander into Grey House and talk to the delectable Andrea Parker in person. She acted like the ice queen but I could tell she was into me. I was seriously thinking about asking her out and risk mixing a little business with pleasure. But, to my surprise, she told me Grey was free and I was to go on in and see him.

“Hey, Grey! How you doing, man?”

“Good thanks, Claude. Andrea says you’re rescheduling our appointment tomorrow.”

“Sure, but it’s just a one-off: you’re not the only one who’s getting famous, man!”

He shook his head and hid a smile. Then he groaned.

“Fucking reporters: I’ve got one coming to see me now. Why the fuck I agreed to this…”

“Cos you’re getting soft, man. I whupped you in the gym and I whupped you on the fairways.”

He threw me an irritated look but I could tell he was amused, too. I figured not too many people stood up to him.

We shook hands and I walked out of his office to try my luck with the ice queen.

“Golf this week, Grey?” I called over my shoulder.

“Fuck off, Bastille.”

I hear him mutter under his breath and I can’t help smiling.

Unfortunately the delectable Ms Parker isn’t alone. Olivia looks like she’s been drinking entirely too much coffee and there’s a cute little brunette sitting in the waiting area. Damn, she’s got the most amazing blue eyes! Pity she dresses like a student. I figure she must be the journalist Grey was talking about. She looks so nervous. Poor kid; he’ll eat her for breakfast.

“Good afternoon, ladies,” I smile at them.

I try to get Andrea’s attention but she’s looking at the kid.

“Mr Grey will see you now, Miss Steele,” she says.

The girl leaps up like she’s been electrocuted. Oh well, I’ll talk to Ms Parker next week.

 


 

Betty’s Tea Room

“I’d been a children’s author for 10 years when I read EL James’ trilogy ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, along with half the world. It inspired me to start writing fan fiction, and from there, my own contemporary romances.

Here are some of the stories that I wrote – I hope you enjoy them.”

 

“My wife will have the Twinings English breakfast tea, bag out, and I’ll have a coffee with skim milk, please.”

Christian is his usual commanding self.

“Oh, I wouldn’t do that, luv,” says the waitress affably. “The coffee here is shocking. I’d have tea if I were you, this being a tea room.”

We’ve come to Betty’s Tea Room in Harrogate because the guidebook says this quaint little place is a must-see during our trip to the north of England. Hanging baskets of flowers invite us into the old corner shop. The dark interior is all tiny tables squeezed together, decorated with starched white tablecloths and silver sugar tongs.

We’ve had the most wonderful morning visiting the Haworth Parsonage where the Brontë sisters wrote their books that changed the course of English literature: all that passion, all that tortured love. I never thought I’d ever really be here but Christian has thought of everything, of course. It’s the perfect honeymoon. From London we had a day trip to Stonehenge where Tess Durbeyfield finally made her peace with Angel and her short, sad life, and now we are in the county of Yorkshire, in the landscape that inspired ‘Wuthering Heights’, ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’.

“It says on the menu that you serve coffee.”

Christian is bemused and a little irritated with our waitress, a short, softly comfortable woman of indeterminate age. She could be anything between fifty and seventy.

“Aye, that we do, pet,” she says, smiling kindly at Christian, “but it’s filthy stuff. Now why don’t you have a nice cuppa, like your lovely young bride?”

I can’t resist.

“How do you know we just got married?”

“Oh, bless you! It’s written all over you! And the way your hubby said ‘my wife’ with such pride… fair brings a lump to me throat.”

I grin at Christian. I just love this place. It’s so… English! I know that with just a little prompting this woman will be giving us her life story. I can’t resist a good story – I suppose that’s why I enjoy working in publishing so much. Christian catches my eye, an amused expression on his face. He tolerates my questioning but I suspect really he just wants a drink.

“Thank you. And you’re right. We are just married: we’re on our honeymoon.”

“You’re Americans, aren’t you? We get a lot of Americans here. Been to the Haworth Parsonage have you?”

“Yes, I’m a big Brontë fan.”

“Course you are, luv, all young women are: all those pounding bosoms and unruly passions. I do like a good bodice-ripper myself but those Brontë lasses were dark. A bit too dark for me. No wonder, the life they led, slowly going mad up on the moors, alone with their thoughts and all the darkness.”

Christian is intrigued. “What do you mean? I never read about any insanity in the family.”

“No, and you won’t,” states our loquacious waitress. “That’s just my opinion, of course. But I’ve lived on these moors my whole life and it’s a strange and wild place, especially in winter. It just… affects some folk more than others. The loneliness, the bleakness. Some folk just can’t take it… and it’s my opinion those young girls were addled – touched in the head. Who’d write such shocking things otherwise?” She shivers and pulls her nylon cardigan firmly across her ample chest. “No, there was a darkness in that family, that’s obvious.”

“Is it?” Christian is intrigued.

“Lord love you, yes! You only have to look at Branwell, the sole surviving son. Talented he were: a poet, a painter. But the drink took him; that and an addiction to laudanum. An addiction to the dark side, you might say – and then there were that affair with a married woman: well, ‘twere the gossip at the time. I’d say that Mrs Robinson took a toll upon him.”

“Mrs Robinson!” I glance at Fifty. “You’re kidding!”

“No, luv, Lydia Robinson. She were the wife of his employer: so there you have an older woman and a younger man who worked for the family – a recipe for disaster.”

Christian smirks at me.

“But I think it were summat else that finished him.”

“Like what?” Christian leans forward to hear her answer as she lowers her voice.

“Well, it can’t be easy growing up in the perfect family when you’re not perfect, can it?”

We’re both slightly shocked by her response, by the words she’s used.

“No, I suppose not,” says Christian softly.

I glance at him but he’s in the thrall of our waitress.

“All those sisters, all that talent; and he’s supposed to be the bright young hope. Hope for him to be a shining success. He’s given the best of everything: a good education with all those expectations heaped upon him. Well, who can live up to that? The darkness of despair grows in his soul whilst the light becomes dimmer. And the only job he can get is as a station clerk: he’s fired from one job after another. Tries to work as a tutor but is fired again: then he comes home to lick his wounds and the darkness grows. His sisters are all being published, and Charlotte, she’s got no time for him. And yet his father, the stern heart at the family’s centre, he’s compassionate, nursing his broken son. I reckon the Reverend understood what it was to have a broken heart, having lost his own dear wife, the children’s mother.” She sighs. “They realise too late that he’s dying of the tuberculosis. And then he’s gone, snuffed out like a candle. When his light went, the darkness over took them all.”

Another shiver runs through her.

“Oh, someone just walked over me grave. Now, what I can I get you, petal?” she says to Christian. “Would you like to try my buns? I’ve got currant or plain, or maybe you’d like the Yorkshire Tea Loaf – that’s our speciality.”

Christian shakes his head. We’re both bemused by her change of pace. And I don’t think anyone has called Christian ‘petal’ before.

“No, thank you.”

“Oh, you must,” she says, firmly. “A young man like you is all hollow legs and big appetites.” Unexpectedly she winks at me. “Perhaps I can tempt you with a nice, toasted teacake and homemade strawberry jam, dear?”

Christian succumbs, as I knew he would and we both opt for toasted teacakes, whatever those are, with strawberry jelly, I mean, jam. Christian is gently bullied into having Earl Grey tea, which seems apt, with fresh lemon. Our waitress frowns slightly: I don’t think she approves of tea without milk but, as we’re American, she tolerates our eccentricity with fortitude.

She returns with our order on a huge tray: two miniature teapots, complete with individual tea strainers; cups and saucers with white paper doilies; two small plates with our toasted teacakes; and two eggcup-sized pots of strawberry jam with silver spoons.

“There you are, my dears,” she says, setting down the enormous tray. “Nothing like an afternoon tea for fortifying the spirit.”

She smiles again and trots off to serve another table.

“She was interesting, wasn’t she?” I say to Christian.

“It’s you,” he says, smiling. “You have a way of getting people to talk to you. You beguile them, Mrs Grey, just like you do me. But you’re right: I didn’t know that about Branwell Brontë.”

He frowns and I can guess what he’s thinking, but I won’t bring up the spectre of Mrs Robinson. She’s ancient history as far as I’m concerned.

“I could have ended up like Branwell,” he says thoughtfully, “drawn to the darkness.”

“No, Christian,” I say, gently resting my hand on his thigh.

He shrugs. “But you drew me into the light.”

He lifts my hand and gently kisses my knuckles.

“And then you married me, Mr Grey,” I say, to lighten his sombre mood.

“That you did, Mrs Grey. I like being married to you.”

“How much do you like it?” I say, raising an eyebrow.

“I’ll demonstrate later, when we’re alone,” he says, a gleam in his eye.

There’s a world of promise in his words and look, and all my muscles clench in a deep, delicious way.

He releases my hand, giving me a salacious smile, and we work our way through our afternoon tea.

When we finish and are ready to head back out into the grey and damp English afternoon air, Christian fishes out a couple of twenty-pound notes which, disconcertingly, are purple.

We stroll out onto the cobbled street but are hailed suddenly.

“Excuse me, dears!”

Our waitress is chasing after us, breathless and flushed. She’s waving one of the twenty-pound notes at us.

“You dropped this,” she wheezes.

Christian hides his smile. “That’s your tip,” he says gently

She gapes at him. She seems even shorter now she’s standing next to Fifty, gazing up at him, perplexed.

“Twenty pounds? A twenty-pound tip! No, dear, that’s far too much!”

Christian cocks his head to one side. “To thank you for your entertaining and informative story.”

She shakes her head emphatically. “No, I can’t possibly accept this.” Then a thought occurs to her. “Well, perhaps I could donate it to charity, petal.”

“Certainly,” says Christian, waving away her thanks.

“Thank you, dears,” she says, happily. “I’ll donate it to the NSPCC.”

“Which charity is that?” I ask out of curiosity.

“Oh, that’s the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.” She smiles at me broadly. “Cheerio, sweetheart!”

“Good choice,” I say softly, glancing up at Christian.

She waves at us and trots back into the tea room.

Christian smiles down at me. “Come on, sweetheart,” he says.

“Alright, petal,” I say, grinning.

He raises an eyebrow. “God, you’re challenging, Mrs Grey.”

“That I am, Mr Grey. What are you going to do about it?”

“I’ll think of something, Mrs Grey.”

“I can’t wait, Mr Grey.”

And he bends down to kiss me, softly and sweetly.


Liked Betty’s Tea Room? Why not check out my other fanfics!
 
 

 BASTILLE DAY

 
 DINNER WITH ELENA

 
 I VOW TO THEE

 
 FIFTY WAYS TO SEATLLE

 
 KATE AND ELLIOT’S FIRST NIGHT

 
 PA TO CHRISTIAN GREY

 
 KATE READS THE CONTRACT

 
 O BROTHER

 
 RED! RED! RED!

The City Girl and the Cowboy


His face was in shadow, the wide brim of his hat shading his eyes. My eyes wandered across the broad shoulders and down to the plaid shirt, unbuttoned enough to show smooth, tan skin and a smattering of chest hair. His waist was lean, accentuated by the large buckle on his wide leather belt. His long legs were encased in denim and his boots were scuffed and worn. Then I looked up and I realized that he was watching me, a small smile lifting the corner of his beautiful, full lips. He took off his hat and ran a hand through a mess of dark curls. His dark blue eyes sparked with mischief and I inhaled sharply. My God! He was beautiful.

He took a pace toward me and the faint scent of soap and sweat clung to him. “Are you Ms. Spencer?” he said.

I was still staring at his chiseled cheekbones, and I licked my lips, suddenly desperate for a long, cooling drink.

He frowned slightly, and repeated his question. “Ma’am? Are you Ms. Erin Spencer? I’ve been looking for you…”

Oh God, yes! ME ME ME! I wanted to shriek. Look for me!

But I didn’t. I just stared. I may have drooled.

His cheeks flushed and he looked away.

“Uh, my mistake, ma’am,” and he turned to walk way.

“Nooooo!” I yelled. “I’m her! I mean, me! I’m Erin Spencer…!”

“You’re Ms. Erin?” he said, his grin wide, showing off a set of beautiful pearly white teeth that would gladden the heart of dentists across the world. “I’ve been told to treat you real good. You’d better come with me now, Ms. Erin.”

He held out his hand and I couldn’t help myself. I reached out and held his hand, feeling the warm skin and rough palm.

“Um, hi,” he said, gently pulling his hand free.

And then he picked up my bag. I was soooo embarrassed. He hadn’t been asking to hold my hand, but to carry my bag. Oh, just shoot me!

“This way, Ms. Erin,” he said, sauntering away.

He had a beautiful backside. Of course he did.

Um, wait a moment! Why did a hot cowboy know my name? And why was he carrying my bag? More to the point, where was he taking me?

The answer to all those questions was, Who the hell cares?

I followed his beautiful ass willingly.

He dumped my bag in the back of a monstrously huge truck, then waited for me to climb inside. Jeez, it was a long way up, and this skirt was kinda tight.

“Um,” I said, sounding considerably less intelligent that my IQ would suggest.

“Y’all need a hand, Ms. Erin?”

“Oh, yes please! It’s quite high,” I laughed nervously, sounding like a cheerleader on helium

Then he stood behind me and placed his large hands over my ass cheeks and boosted me up.

I shot up so fast, I ended up sprawled across the passenger seat face down, my legs waving in the air.

“I’m fine,” I grit out through a mouthful of seat. “I’m fine.”

“You sure are, Ms. Erin,” he said, and I swear I could hear the wicked smile in his voice.

The truck’s motor coughed into life with a throaty roar, and I couldn’t tell if it was the throb of the engine or something else entirely that was making me so hot and bothered.

I gripped onto the door handle with one hand and closed my eyes. I wasn’t scared of the driving—just the man driving me crazy. I let my eyelids drift open and couldn’t stop my gaze running across the denim stretched tight across muscular thighs. Damn it, some horse must have the pleasure of having those legs wrapped around it on a regular basis. What the hell was happening to me? I was jealous of a horse!

“Are you okay, Ms. Erin? You look kind of peaked,” he asked, his tone amused.

“Fine,” I grit out again, baring my teeth in a scary semblance of a smile. “I’m fine.”

Then I glanced over at him, and I’m sure he was hiding a smile. Hell, if we’d switched places, I’d be laughing my ass off.

“You never told me your name,” I said.

“Guess I didn’t,” he replied.

“Well?” I snapped, uneasy and impatient as his grin grew wider.

“You can call me Dylan,” he said, at last.

“After Bob Dylan?”

He shot me a sideways look, as if deciding whether to reply. After a short silence he shook his head.

“After the character on Beverly Hills 90210. Mom was a fan.”

“Oh, that’s … nice?” I said, my IQ dropping with every syllable I uttered. “And you can call me Erin.”

He smiled easily. “Thank you kindly, ma’am.”

I wanted to hit him. And kiss him. But mostly hit him.

Once again my eyes were drawn back to the way his jeans clung to that pair of muscular thighs. When he caught me looking for the second time, that damn smirk crept across his lips.

“See somethin’ you like, Ms. Erin?” he drawled.

“Not particularly!” I snapped back.

I was lying….

I forced myself to stare out of the window, my arms crossed protectively across my chest.

“Sure is pretty,” he said.

“What?!” I gasped.

“The view,” he said, biting back another smile. “Somethin’ about Oklahoma, don’t ya think?”

Damn him!

But as we left the airport road behind us and the miles rolled by, two opposing sets of emotions began to war inside me. I was a city girl, born and bred, and damn happy about it. I was not the kind of girl who wanted to go hiking or camping, or anything at all that involved squatting behind a bush to do my business, or waiting three days to take a shower. And don’t get me started on the creepies and crawlies and wild things that lived out there, away from the city. But at the same time, the beauty of the endless skies and wide, rolling hills soothed something inside me, releasing a tension I didn’t know I’d been carrying.

Just as I was feeling at peace, the cowboy by my side, the man I’d have to start calling ‘Dylan’, turned the radio on. I was irritated at first, annoyed that my peaceful state of mind had been interrupted by music.

But then he started singing along, and my mouth dropped open.

His light tenor voice rose softly above the music from the speakers.

When it’s not always raining

There’ll be days like this.

When there’s no one complaining

There’ll be days like this.

I recognized Van Morrison’s lyrics, sung beautifully, by a man who didn’t care about trying to impress me, or hit on me, and didn’t care that the song was old and uncool—he didn’t do any of the things city guys did, like talk about how much he earned or the square footage of his apartment, or his German-import car. He wasn’t at all like my ex—and damn, if that wasn’t the most attractive thing about him.

He saw me watching him and I saw the sparkle in his eyes that told me smile hid behind the music. Then he winked.

Darned, over-observant cowboy!

It was my boss’s idea to send me on this assignment.

‘Oh boy, won’t it be funny to send the city girl to write an article about a working ranch? You’ll love it, Erin, and our readers will love the female perspective. You’ll experience a real, live working ranch. You’ll sleep under the stars, learn to ride a horse and throw a lasso. What’s not to like?’

Everything! Grr.

It was my first solo assignment as a journalist at an online blog Travel America. I couldn’t say no, even though I really, really wanted to. I’d been stressed for so long: new job, new city, trying to make friends, trying to live up to everyone’s expectations of me.

I looked across at Dylan, really looked at him—he seemed so calm and competent, so in the moment, so at ease with who he was.

I’d come out here to try something different, to be someone different—which meant letting go of the old, uptight Erin. And maybe, with this man in this place, where I had a blank slate, I could start again.

I took a deep breath. I needed to stop being an uptight klutz and let go of my baggage.

“Thank you for picking me up, Dylan,” I said sincerely. “My boss didn’t tell me anything other than to take an Uber to the ranch. I’m grateful that you came out of your way when I know this is a really busy time of year for you.”

His eyebrows rose and a faint flush of red colored his cheeks.

“Thank you, Erin. I appreciate that.”

I was silent for a moment, but one of the keys to being a good journalist is to get people talking.

“It’s beautiful country here,” I offered.

He relaxed immediately. “It’s God’s own country, that’s for sure. The word ‘Oklahoma’ is from the Choctaw tribe. ‘Okla’ and ‘humma’ mean ‘honored people’. I think of it as an honor to be born here.” The left side of his mouth lifted in a half-smile. “I guess you think that’s kind of lame.”

“Not at all! It’s fascinating.”

He didn’t seem entirely convinced.

“So, what kind of story are you here to write? I’m guessing it’s not about overgrazing and reduction in soil quality as a cause of desertification, you being a city gal an’ all.”

“What was the clue?” I asked wryly.

“The killer heels and the classy suitcase tipped me off,” he smiled. “Or the fact that you looked at me as if I was an alien from another planet.”

A beautiful alien that I wanted to eat like a juicy steak.

I coughed out a laugh.

“Guilty as charged. But I’m here to learn. And I had read that some people say livestock ranching also contributes to air and water pollution.”

He gave me an appraising look.

“I guess you’ve done your research. But cattle ranches like the Bar-D are committed to the environment and sustainability. One day, I want my kids to be proud of what I’ve done…”

My smile fell. Damn it! Why were all the good guys married?

But he hadn’t finished speaking yet.

“When I find the right woman and have kids, that is,” he said, his gaze focused on the winding road ahead as we passed lush green fields and tall stands of trees.

I wanted to cheer, but I just nodded and tried to still the racing of my heart.

“I want this land to be even healthier for future for generations to come. We have a problem with red cedars which are an Eastern species and suck up a ton of water, which reduces our native grasslands and can be a wildfire hazard. That’s not sustainable. But cattle help manage the range and reclaim it from invasive species like the red cedar.”

He glanced at me.

“Too much? Sorry, didn’t mean to get on my hobby-hoss this early on in our relationship.”

I couldn’t help a nervous twitch in my eye when he said the R-word—a word that my ex was allergic to.

I swallowed hard and shrugged a shoulder. If he was that passionate about ranching, what else might he be passionate about?

“It’s not too much at all,” I replied. “And yes, I’ve read about some of the things you’ve mentioned and about ranching today, but I haven’t lived it. I want to write about your life. I want to see it all and try it all. I … our readers will want to know everything.”

He shook his head. “I’m not that interesting.”

I smiled and rested my head on the seat back. “This city girl disagrees. It’ll be fun finding out that I’m right.”

And I wasn’t just talking about ranching.

“Did you bring any clothes that you can go horseback riding in?” he asked. “It can be challenging country up in the high country.”

“Full disclosure: I’ve never sat on a horse in my life.”

He looked shocked. “Never?”

“I’ve never even petted one, although I saw a zebra at the zoo once. But I think I can scare up a pair of jeans and boots from my suitcase. I’m willing to try anything you can throw at me, cowboy. Are you up to the challenge?”

He laughed out loud. “Buckle up, Ms. Erin. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.”

Yee-ha!

 

THE END


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Flesh Fiction

I’m delighted to tell you about a short story anthology which will be published in October 2021, named FLESH FICTION. I’m in great company with some of the most exciting and innovative romance writers working today.

Add to Goodreads

INSEGNAMI AD ADMARE (The Education Series)

Intrappolata in un matrimonio senza amore, la trentenne Caroline Wilson si trasferisce a San Diego perché suo marito ha ottenuto una promozione. Sentendosi sola e smarrita, Caroline fa amicizia con un giovane surfista del posto: Sebastian Hunter. Sebastian prova qualcosa di più che semplice amicizia per Caroline e approfitta degli incontri sulla spiaggia per avvicinarla e trasmetterle ciò che prova. Tra i due scocca la scintilla dell’attrazione e l’affetto si trasforma in un amore proibito che li minaccia entrambi, perché il ragazzo ha solo diciassette anni e Caroline è divisa tra la cosa giusta da fare e i suoi sentimenti per lui.

 

Published by Delrai Edizioni

Graphics by Chiara

 

 

 

 

The Duchess of Richmond’s Ball

For the first time, I’ve written a historical short story, set in Regency times, 1815. I have to admit to a great love of Jane Austen, so I hope you recognise something of her tone.


Rue des CendresBrussels

June 15th, 1815

My dearest sister,

Be assured that I am well, lately arrived with my party at Rue des Cendres. You were quite right to tell me to pack my French dictionary, for now I can tell you that we lodge in the Road of Cinders – is that not amusing?

Crossing the English Channel was quite shocking as the seas were excessively violent, but I will not worry you with how wretched I felt, because all is blue sky and sunshine now we have arrived.

It is a queer house indeed, but I am told that there are so many officers of note in Brussels, that even a Duke must lodge where he may – is that not shocking! But! There is a wonderful ballroom (you can be sure that I investigated that at my earliest opportunity). It is a large and airy room – at least one hundred feet long and I suspect more – on the ground floor on the left of the entrance, but connected with the rest of the house by an ante room. I believe it was used by the coach builder from whom the house was rented. Imagine! It was full of carriages before we arrived, but has now been wallpapered with a pretty trellis pattern of roses. It has been used for games of battledore and shuttlecock when the weather keeps the family indoors. But what fun it would have been to sit on hay bales and stroke the noses of the horses in between quadrilles! I’m sure you think me fanciful, but how amusing and such laughter would surely have ensued.

Georgy (as dear Georgiana has asked me to call her, as I am here at her invitation and her particular friend), says that we will attend Reviews, as well as ride out with her sisters to visit other families who have settled in Brussels. She says that there is a plethora of concerts, aplenty of picnics, dozens of dinners, assemblies, and dances which fill the Richmonds’ diary. Balls are held two or three times a week!

My room is delightful and overlooks la rue. Her Grace had originally thought to put me at the rear of the house which would be quieter, certainly, but think of all the scenery and excitement I would then miss. I argued my case vigorously and she relented at last, so now I may gaze over all the fine officers and their mounts, as they lead their brave soldiers through the streets.

I suppose there must be a battle, everyone says there will be, but it’s hard to imagine even though one sees Hussars in their green jackets, Dragoons in their red coats with golden helmets, and the mysterious Brunswickers in their black uniforms, whom I consider the most dashing of all.

You must think that I have not a thought in my head but officers and frivolity, and I assure you that is entirely the case! But I must pause a little to remark on the food, which I know you will enjoy.

Her Grace is a most charming host and we dine on white soup every afternoon. Then one might find four or five different meats on the table: Pigeons, Venison, Chyne of Mutton and Snipes. Even the servants have two different types of meat per person. I can also report that I have eaten my first artichoke, a queer, theatrical vegetable that tastes somewhat like French Beans (of which there are plenty and served with every meal). There is a choice of hot dishes and of course syllabub. They are vastly keen on fruit as it is said to prevent scurvy.

But here is just come the most exciting news – Her Grace is to host a ball tonight! Now the Duke of Wellington has returned from Vienna he will set about making ready the troops. Lord March, Richmond’s eldest son, is aide-de-camp to the Prince of Orange, and the two younger brothers George and William were also to be involved in the fighting in a similar capacity.

I am so happy here that all I need is my dear sister to make it perfect. But as you are not, I must describe everything to you in detail. Starting with my dress for the ball tonight.

I had thought I was equipped for a night with the ton, but Georgy would have me choose a gown of hers – and pretend that we are sisters! Although she has six of her own, she prefers my company at all times.

My hair is to be dressed close to my head but with curls and twists to the side of my face. I have not yet decided whether to wear a toque or a bandeau. I have eschewed the turban as one becomes quite warm when dancing, and I intend to dance at every opportunity. There will be more gentleman than ladies, to be sure!

The bodice is wide but short, the waistline is quite high, and there is now trimming that adds volume to the shoulder, enhancing the horizontal effect. I do think it suits me remarkably well.

The correct attire for gentlemen is knee breeches, white cravat and chapeau bras (which here is called a ‘bicorne’ hat), and of course one must stand in a dégagé attitude, with his fingers in his waistcoat pocket. His neck-cloth must be beyond rebuke, and must have cost him time and trouble to arrive at such perfection. Such nonsense! What is a mere ‘mister’ when there are Captains and Majors to be met with?

But I must leave off now and go about my toilette. Oh sister, wish me must joy as I wish you!

PS I am grateful that our poor, patient governess Madame B., managed to shoehorn some French into my dull brain, for it means I am able to converse with Her Grace’s lady’s maid who speaks nothing but French, and I am able to instruct her how to dress my hair.

June 16th, 3am

Even though the hour is late or maybe very early, I must write to you, but please forgive my ink blots and crossings-out. My heart is so full, I can barely write or mend my pen. Tonight I danced with Lord Hay. His name is James. Do not you think it the most gentlemanly, the most noble of names? Indeed, I think he is the superior of all men.

His father is the 17th Earl of Erroll, a scotch title, but an ancient one, so that is not too awful. Happily, the family home is Woodbury House in the county of Bedfordshire, a fine estate of several hundred acres – I not know exactly how many for one cannot remember everything when one dances a cotillion.

But I must, I must talk of Lord Hay. He is a dashing and merry youth, full of military ardour, and so handsome, just as a young man ought to be if he possibly can. I’m sure when the time comes, he will acquit himself with great honour.

He is only an Ensign in the First Foot Guards but fully intends to earn his spurs (as he told me with great delight). He is aide-de-camp to General Maitland, a good sort of man, not quite ancient although I believe he is approaching forty, but dear sister, you will forgive me for saying that he was not wholly pleasant company. He seems to think that cricket, of all things, is the most superior sport in the world, and he would hardly talk of anything else. Yet, it must be cricket and only talking of cricket could bring anything like animation to his plain features. But my dearest James says that the General also began as a lowly Ensign and look where he is now!

Do you not think I would admirably suit the life of wife to a military man? I think it would suit me vastly well. The excitement of moving from place to place, always novelty and new acquaintance. Yes, I think I could wish for nothing more.

Oh, I have so much to tell you! I met the Duke of Wellington! I was quite afraid at first, but Georgiana is not at all afraid of him and her family have known him forever. Indeed, she rides out with him most days. She says he has a very wicked sense of humour! I would not have thought that of such a spare, austere sort of man. But apparently our lodgings are on the site of an old laundry house from the 1600s, so the Duke has nicknamed it ‘The Wash House’. Such a naughty, teasing man! I thought I should die laughing!

The great Sir Arthur (as dear Georgiana and all the other sisters call him) arrived rather late to the ball, but then he said to Lord., “Hay, you are a lucky fellow, to see such a sight as the French Army in your first battle.” Such peculiar attention from such a great man. I was quite overcome on his behalf.

Oh, Agnes! If only you could have been with me to see my triumph tonight and shared with my happiness. Lady P. says that H. is quite besotted with me, and is you know, she is never wrong, as she has often told me herself!

And can you guess what happened next? Nothing would please Lord Hay better than that he would dance with me a third time!

But then he looked most serious and said that rumours had begun to circulate that the French were close by at Quatres Bras near the village of Waterloo. When the Duke of Wellington heard this, we were dancing, but Georgy went to him to ask about the rumours. He said very gravely, “Yes, they are true; we are off to-morrow.”

This terrible news was circulated directly, and while some of the officers hurried away, my H. insisted on staying with me so we could dance again, and said he did not care if there was no time to change his clothes and he would happily fight in his evening costume so he could spend another moment with me! Was that not gallant? Was that not kind? I hardly dare tell you everything that I feel.

His Grace remained calm and collected as is his wont. At dinner he sat with Georgy and Lady Frances Wedderburn Webster, and all night he received messages about the French movements. At one point, he requested a map from Her Grace’s husband, the Duke of Richmond, and they retired into the library with the other Generals.

Wellington stayed at the ball until half past two, and then H. would go with him. He said goodbye to me most ardently and respectfully and said he hoped very much that he would see me again after the battle. My heart is very full.

Georgy went with her brother to his house in the grounds to pack his belongings and bid farewell. She, her sisters and her mother parted with painful goodbyes.

We huddled together for comfort until Her Grace insisted that we retire so we would be fresh and awake to welcome back our brave soldiers on the morrow.

The rain has been rattling against the windows ever since and I cannot sleep for an unpleasant sense of foreboding. Oh my dearest sister, I wish with all my heart that you were beside me and could assure me that all will be well.

I passed a wretched night as you may guess, and breakfasted in silence. Everyone is worried and our nerves are frayed.

Oh my dearest A, something quite serious and alarming has occurred. My heart now trembles for another reason. We can hear the canon! They say that Napoleon’s artillery is feared across the world, and I think it must be so. when I think of my dearest, darling James sent into the fray, into the very heat of the moment, such a brave young man, I tremble so. But I do think that after this terrible battle is over he will make me an offer! He has much has said so! How can I possibly contain so much joy, even in the midst of such alarm?

I will write again when the outcome is confirmed.

Your affectionate sister,

Honoria


I hope you enjoyed this epistolary style short story set on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Lord Hay was a real person and the ball itself took place, as described.

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