“Here we are.” I open the door at Esclava and usher Ana in. I haven’t been here for a couple of months; the last time was with Susannah.
“Good morning, Mr. Grey,” Greta greets us.
“Is this the usual, sir?” she asks politely.
Fuck. “No.” I give Ana a nervous look. “Miss Steele will tell you what she wants.”
Ana’s eyes are on me, burning with insight. “Why here?” she demands.
“I own this place, and three more like it.”
“You own it?”
“Yes. It’s a sideline. Anyway—whatever you want, you can have it here, on the house.” I run through all the spa treatments available. “All that stuff that women like—everything. It’s done here.”
For a split second I think about recommending the chocolate wax for her pubic hair, but given our détente, I keep my suggestion to myself. “Yes, waxing, too…everywhere.”
How will I ever convince her that penetrative sex would be more pleasurable for her without the hair?
One step at a time, Grey.
“I’d like a haircut, please,” she says to Greta.
“Certainly, Miss Steele.”
Greta concentrates on her computer and punches a few keys. “Franco is free in five minutes.”
“Franco’s fine,” I confirm, but notice Ana’s demeanor has suddenly changed. I’m about to ask what’s wrong when I glance up and see Elena walking out of the back office.
Hell. What’s she doing here?
Elena has a quick word with one of her employees, then she spies me and lights up like Christmas, her expression one of wicked delight.
“Excuse me,” I say to Ana, and hurry to meet Elena before she makes her way to us.
“Well, this is an unexpected pleasure,” Elena purrs in greeting as she kisses me on both cheeks.
“Good morning, Ma’am. I wasn’t expecting to see you here.”
“My aesthetician called in sick. So, you have been avoiding me.”
“I’ve been busy.”
“I can see. Is that someone new?”
“That is Anastasia Steele.”
Elena beams at Ana, who is watching us intently. She knows that we’re talking about her, and she responds with a lukewarm smile.
“Your little southern belle?” Elena asks.
“She’s not southern.”
“I thought you went to Georgia to see her.”
“Her mom lives there.”
“I see. She certainly looks like your type.”
“Yeah.” Let’s not go there.
“Are you going to introduce me?”
Ana is talking to Greta—grilling her, I think. What’s she asking?
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
Elena looks disappointed. “Why not?”
“She’s named you Mrs. Robinson.”
“Oh, really? That’s funny. Though I’m surprised someone that young knows the reference.” Elena’s tone is wry. “I’m also astonished you told her about us. What happened to confidentiality?” She taps a scarlet fingernail against her lips.
“She’s not going to talk.”
“I hope so. Look, don’t worry. I’ll back off.” She holds her hands up in surrender.
“But is this a good idea, Christian? She’s hurt you once already.” Elena’s face is etched with concern.
“I don’t know. I missed her. She missed me. I’ve decided I’m going to try it her way. She’s willing.”
“Her way? Are you sure you can? Are you sure you want to?”
Ana is still staring at us. She’s alarmed.
“Time will tell,” I answer.
“Well, I’m here if you need me. Good luck.” She gives me a soft but calculated smile. “Don’t be a stranger.”
“Thanks. Are you going to my parents’ soirée this evening?”
“I don’t think so.”
“That’s probably a good idea.”
She looks momentarily surprised, but says, “Let’s catch up later this week when we can talk more freely.”
She squeezes my arm and I head back to Ana, who is still waiting by the reception desk. Her face is pinched and her arms are folded across her body as she radiates her displeasure.
This is not good.
“Are you okay?” I ask, knowing full well that she isn’t.
“Not really. You didn’t want to introduce me?” she replies, in a tone that’s both sarcastic and indignant.
Christ. She knows it’s Elena. How? “But I thought—”
Ana interrupts me. “For a bright man, sometimes—” She stops midsentence, too angry to continue. “I’d like to go, please.” She taps her foot against the marble floor.
“You know why,” she snaps, and rolls her eyes as if I’m the biggest idiot she’s ever met.
You are the biggest idiot she’s ever met, Grey.
You know how she feels about Elena.
Everything was going so well.
Make this right, Grey.
“I’m sorry, Ana. I didn’t know she’d be here. She’s never here. She’s opened a new branch at the Bravern Center, and that’s where she’s normally based. Someone was sick today.”
Ana turns abruptly and storms to the door.
“We won’t need Franco, Greta,” I inform the receptionist, annoyed that she may have heard our exchange. Hastily, I go after Ana.
She wraps her arms around herself defensively and marches up the street with her head down. I’m forced to take longer strides to catch up with her.
Ana. Stop. You’re overreacting.
She simply doesn’t understand the nature of Elena’s and my relationship.
As I walk beside her, I’m floundering. What do I do? What do I say? Perhaps Elena is right.