The photographer takes a few snaps. “Mr. Grey, thank you.” At least he sounds appreciative. “Miss…?” he asks, wanting to know her name.
“Ana Steele,” she answers, shyly.
“Thank you, Miss Steele.” He slithers off and Anastasia steps out of my grasp. I’m disappointed to let her go and fist my hands to resist the urge to touch her again.
She peers at me. “I looked for pictures of you with dates on the Internet. There aren’t any. That’s why Kate thought you were gay.”
“That explains your inappropriate question.” I can’t help smiling as I remember her awkwardness at our first meeting: her lack of interview skills, her questions. Are you gay, Mr. Grey? And my annoyance.
That seems so long ago. I shake my head and continue. “No—I don’t do dates, Anastasia, only with you. But you know that.”
And I’d like many, many more.
“So you never took your”—she lowers her voice and glances over her shoulder to check that no one’s listening—“subs out?” She blanches at the word, embarrassed.
“Sometimes. Not on dates. Shopping, you know.” Those occasional trips were just a distraction, maybe a reward for good submissive behavior. The one woman I’ve wanted to share more with…is Ana. “Just you, Anastasia,” I whisper, and I want to plead my case, ask her about my proposition, see how she feels, and if she’ll take me back.
However, the gallery is too public a setting. Her cheeks turn that delicious pink that I love, and she stares down at her hands. I hope it’s because she likes what I’m saying, but I can’t be sure. I need to get her out of here and on her own. Then we can talk seriously and eat. The sooner we’ve seen the boy’s work, the sooner we can leave.
“Your friend here seems more of a landscape man, not portraits. Let’s look around.” I hold out my hand, and to my delight, she takes it.
We stroll through the gallery, stopping briefly at each photograph. Though I resent the boy and the feelings he inspires in Ana, I have to admit he’s quite good. We turn the corner—and stop.
There she is. Seven full-blown portraits of Anastasia Steele. She looks jaw-droppingly beautiful, natural, and relaxed—laughing, scowling, pouting, pensive, amused, and in one of them, wistful and sad. As I scrutinize the detail in each photograph, I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that he wants to be much more than her friend. “Seems I’m not the only one,” I mutter. The photographs are his homage to her—his love letters—and they’re all over the gallery walls for any random asshole to ogle.
Ana is staring at them in stunned silence, as surprised as I am to see them. Well, there’s no way anyone else is having these. I want the pictures. I hope they’re for sale.
“Excuse me.” I abandon Ana for a moment and head to the reception desk.
“May I help you?” the woman who greeted us when we arrived asks.
Ignoring her fluttering eyelashes and provocative, overly red smile, I inquire, “The seven portraits you have hanging at the back, are they for sale?”
A look of disappointment flits across her face but resolves into a broad smile. “The Anastasia collection? Stunning work.”
“Of course they’re for sale. Let me check the prices,” she gushes.
“I want them all.” And I reach for my wallet.
“All of them?” She sounds surprised.
“Yes.” Irritating woman.
“The collection is fourteen thousand dollars.”
“I’d like them delivered as soon as possible.”
“But they’re due to hang for the duration of the exhibition,” she says.
I give her my full-kilowatt smile, and she adds, flustered, “But I’m sure we can arrange something.” She fumbles with my credit card as she swipes it.
When I return to Ana, I find a blond dude chatting with her, trying his luck. “These photographs are terrific,” he says. I place a territorial hand on her elbow and give him my best fuck-off-now glare. “You’re a lucky guy,” he adds, taking a step back.
“That I am,” I answer, dismissing him as I usher Ana over to the wall.
“Did you just buy one of these?” Ana nods toward the portraits.
“One of these?” I scoff. One? Are you serious?
“You bought more than one?”
“I bought them all, Anastasia.” And I know I sound condescending, but the thought of someone else owning and enjoying these photographs is out of the question. Her lips part in astonishment, and I try not to let it distract me. “I don’t want some stranger ogling you in the privacy of their home.”
“You’d rather it was you?” she counters.
Her response, though unexpected, is entertaining; she’s admonishing me. “Frankly, yes,” I respond in kind.
“Pervert,” she mouths, and bites her lip, I suspect to suppress a laugh.
Lord, she’s challenging and funny and right. “Can’t argue with that assessment, Anastasia.”
“I’d discuss it further with you, but I’ve signed an NDA.” With a haughty look, she turns to study the pictures once more.