“What?” she asks. She knows I’m up to something, and not for the first time I wonder if she can read my mind.
I shake my head. “Eat up.”
Bright blue eyes regard me. “I can’t manage any more. Have I eaten enough for Sir?”
Is she deliberately trying to goad me? I scrutinize her face, but she seems genuine, and she’s eaten more than half of what was on her plate. If she hasn’t eaten anything over the last few days she’s probably had enough to eat this evening.
“I’m really full,” she reiterates.
As if on cue, my phone vibrates in my jacket pocket, signaling a message. It will be from Taylor, he’s probably close to the gallery by now. I glance at my watch.
“We have to go shortly. Taylor’s here, and you have to be up for work in the morning.” I hadn’t considered that before. She’s working now—she needs sleep. I may have to revise my plans and my body’s expectations. The thought of deferring my desire displeases me.
Ana reminds me that I need to be up for work, too.
“I function on a lot less sleep than you do, Anastasia. At least you’ve eaten something.”
“Aren’t we going back via Charlie Tango?”
“No, I thought I might have a drink—Taylor will pick us up. Besides, this way I have you in the car all to myself—for a few hours, at least. What can we do but talk?” And I can put my proposition to her.
I shift uncomfortably in my chair. Stage three of the campaign has not gone as smoothly as I anticipated.
She’s made me jealous.
I’ve lost control.
Yes. As usual, she’s derailed me. But I can turn this around and close the deal in the car.
Don’t give up, Grey.
Summoning the waiter, I ask for the check, then call Taylor. He answers on the second ring.
“We’re at Le Picotin, Southwest Third Avenue,” I inform him and hang up.
“You’re very brusque with Taylor…In fact, with most people.”
“I just get to the point quickly, Anastasia.”
“You haven’t gotten to the point this evening. Nothing’s changed, Christian.”
Touché, Miss Steele.
Tell her. Tell her, now, Grey.
“I have a proposition for you.”
“This started with a proposition.”
“A different proposition,” I clarify.
She’s a little skeptical, I think, but maybe she’s curious, too. The waiter returns and I give him my card, but I keep my attention on Ana. Well, at least she’s intrigued.
My heart rate accelerates. I hope she goes for this…or I really will be lost. The waiter hands me the credit card slip to sign. I enter an obscene tip and sign my name with a flourish. The waiter seems excessively grateful. And it’s still irritating.
My phone buzzes and I scan the text. Taylor’s arrived. The waiter gives me my card back and disappears.
“Come. Taylor’s outside.”
We both stand and I take her hand. “I don’t want to lose you, Anastasia,” I murmur, and raise her hand and brush my lips against her knuckles. Her breathing accelerates.
Oh, that sound.
I glance at her face. Her lips are parted, cheeks pink and eyes wide. The sight fills me with hope and desire. I stifle my impulses and lead her through the restaurant and outside, where Taylor is waiting at the curb in the Q7. It occurs to me that Ana might be reluctant to talk if he’s in front.
I have an idea. Opening the rear door, I usher her in, and walk around to the driver’s side. Taylor gets out to open the door for me.
“Good evening, Taylor. Do you have your iPod and headphones?”
“Yes, sir, never leave home without them.”
“Great. Use them on the way home.”
“Of course, sir.”
“What will you listen to?”
“Good choice.” I smile. As ever, he surprises me. I’d always assumed his musical tastes leaned toward country and rock. Taking a deep breath, I climb into the car. I’m about to negotiate the deal of my life.
I want her back.
Taylor presses play on the car’s sound system and the stirring notes from Rachmaninov swell quietly in the background. He regards me for a second in the mirror and pulls out into the light evening traffic.
Anastasia is watching me when I turn to face her. “As I was saying, Anastasia, I have a proposition for you.”
She looks anxiously at Taylor, as I knew she would.
“Taylor can’t hear you.”
“What?” She looks perplexed.
“Taylor,” I call. Taylor doesn’t respond. I call him again, then lean over and tap his shoulder. He removes an earbud.
“Thank you, Taylor. It’s okay—resume your listening.”
“Happy now? He’s listening to his iPod. Puccini. Forget he’s here. I do.”
“Did you deliberately ask him to do that?”
She blinks in surprise. “Okay…your proposition,” she says, hesitant and apprehensive.
I’m nervous, too, baby. Here goes. Don’t blow this, Grey.
How to begin?
I take a deep breath. “Let me ask you something first. Do you want a regular vanilla relationship, with no kinky fuckery at all?”