She presses her lips together in a petulant pout, then gives me a begrudging “Okay.”
Taking her hand, I move swiftly into the gallery, and she scrambles behind me.
The space is brightly lit and airy. It’s one of those converted warehouses that are fashionable at the moment—all wood floors and brick walls. Portland’s cognoscenti sip cheap wine and chat in hushed tones while they admire the exhibition.
A young woman greets us. “Good evening, and welcome to José Rodriguez’s show.” She stares at me.
It’s only skin deep, sweetheart. Look elsewhere.
She’s flustered but seems to recover when she spies Anastasia. “Oh, it’s you, Ana. We’ll want your take on all this, too.” She hands her a brochure and points us toward the makeshift bar. Ana’s brow furrows, and that little v that I love forms above her nose. I want to kiss it, like I’ve done before.
“You know her?” I ask. She shakes her head and her frown deepens. I shrug. Well, this is Portland. “What would you like to drink?”
“I’ll have a glass of white wine, thank you.”
As I head for the bar I hear an exuberant shout. “Ana!”
Turning, I see that that boy has his arms wrapped around my girl.
I can’t hear what they’re saying, but Ana closes her eyes, and for one horrible moment I think she’s going to burst into tears. But she remains composed as he holds her at arm’s length, appraising her.
Yeah, she’s that thin because of me.
I fight back my guilt—though it seems she’s trying to reassure him. For his part, he looks really fucking interested in her. Too interested. Anger flares in my chest. She says he’s just a friend, but it’s obvious he doesn’t feel that way. He wants more.
Back off, buddy, she’s mine.
“The work here is impressive, don’t you think?” A balding young man in a loud shirt sidetracks me.
“I’ve not looked around yet,” I answer, and turn to the barman. “Is this all you have?”
“Yep. Red or white?” he says, sounding disinterested.
“Two glasses of white wine,” I grunt.
“I think you’ll be impressed. Rodriguez has a unique eye,” the irritating prick with the irritating shirt tells me. Tuning him out, I glance at Ana. She’s staring at me, her eyes large and luminous. My blood thickens and it’s impossible to look away. She’s a beacon in the crowd and I’m lost in her gaze. She looks sensational. Her hair frames her face and falls in a lush cascade to curl at her breasts. Her dress, looser than I remember, still hugs her curves. She might have worn it deliberately. She knows it’s my favorite. Doesn’t she? Hot dress, hot boots…
Fuck—control yourself, Grey.
Rodriguez asks Ana a question and she’s forced to break eye contact with me. I sense she’s reluctant to do so, which is pleasing. But damn it, that boy’s all perfect teeth, broad shoulders, and sharp suit. He’s a good-looking son of a bitch, for a dope smoker, I’ll give him that. She nods at something he says and gives him a warm, carefree smile.
I’d like her to smile like that at me. He leans down and kisses her cheek. Fucker.
I glare at the bartender.
Hurry up, man. He’s taking an eternity to pour the wine, incompetent fool.
Finally, he’s finished. I grab the glasses, cold-shoulder the young man beside me who’s talking about another photographer or some such crap, and head back to Ana.
At least Rodriguez has left her alone. She’s lost in thought, contemplating one of his photographs. It’s a landscape, a lake, and not without merit, I suppose. She glances up at me with a guarded expression as I hand her a glass. I take a quick sip from mine. Christ, it’s disgusting, a warm over-oaked chardonnay.
“Does it come up to scratch?” She sounds amused, but I have no idea what she’s referring to—the exhibition, the building? “The wine,” she clarifies.
“No. Rarely does at these kinds of events.” I change the subject. “The boy’s quite talented, isn’t he?”
“Why else do you think I asked him to take your portrait?” Her pride in his work is obvious. It irks me. She admires him and takes an interest in his success because she cares about him. She cares about him too much. An ugly emotion with a bitter sting rises in my chest. It’s jealousy, a new feeling, one that I’ve only ever felt around her—and I don’t like it.
“Christian Grey?” A guy dressed like a vagrant thrusts a camera in my face, interrupting my dark thoughts. “Can I have a picture, sir?”
Damned paparazzi. I want to tell him to fuck off but decide to be polite. I don’t want Sam, my publicity guy, dealing with a press complaint.
“Sure.” I reach out and pull Ana to my side. I want everyone to know she’s mine; if she’ll have me.
Don’t get ahead of yourself, Grey.