Her compassion for me.
“Please,” she says.
“I was so scared,” I whisper. I’m scared now. “When I saw Ethan arrive outside, I knew someone had let you into your apartment. Both Taylor and I leapt out of the car. We knew, and to see her there like that with you—and armed. I think I died a thousand deaths, Ana. Someone threatening you. All my worst fears realized. I was so angry, with her, with you, with Taylor, with myself.” I’m haunted by the vision of Leila and her gun. “I didn’t know how volatile she would be. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how she’d react.” I stop, remembering Leila’s surrender. “And then she gave me a clue; she looked so contrite. And I just knew what I had to do.”
“Go on,” Ana prompts.
“Seeing her in that state, knowing that I might have something to do with her mental breakdown—”
A memory from years ago surfaces, unwelcome—Leila smirking as she deliberately turned her back on me, knowing the consequences. “She was always so mischievous and lively. She might have harmed you. And it would have been my fault.”
If anything happened to Ana…
“But she didn’t,” Ana says. “And you weren’t responsible for her being in that state, Christian.”
“I just wanted you gone. I wanted you away from the danger, and…You. Just. Wouldn’t. Go.” My exasperation returns and I glare at Ana. “Anastasia Steele, you are the most stubborn woman I know.” I close my eyes and shake my head. What am I going to do with her?
If she stays.
She’s still kneeling in front of me when I open my eyes.
“You weren’t going to run?” I ask.
“No!” Now she sounds exasperated.
She’s not leaving me. I take a deep breath. “I thought—” I stop. “This is me, Ana. All of me, and I’m all yours. What do I have to do to make you realize that? To make you see that I want you any way I can get you. That I love you.”
“I love you, too, Christian, and to see you like this is—” She pauses as she chokes back tears. “I thought I’d broken you.”
“Broken? Me? Oh no, Ana. Just the opposite.”
You make me whole.
Reaching out, I take her hand in mine. “You’re my lifeline,” I whisper.
I need you.
I kiss each of her knuckles before pressing my palm against the palm of her hand.
How can I make her see what she means to me?
Let her touch me.
Touch me, Ana.
Yes. And before I overthink it, I take her hand and place it on my chest, over my heart.
I’m yours, Ana.
The darkness expands inside my rib cage and my breathing quickens. But I control my fear. I need her more. I drop my hand, leaving hers in place, and concentrate on her lovely face. Her compassion is there, reflected in her eyes.
I see it.
She flexes her fingers so I briefly feel her nails through my shirt. Then she removes her hand.
“No.” My response is instinctive, and I press her hand to my chest. “Don’t.”
She looks bewildered, but then she shuffles closer so our knees are touching. She reaches up.
Shit. She’s going to undress me.
And I’m filled with dread. I can’t breathe. With one hand she awkwardly undoes the first button. She flexes the fingers trapped beneath my hand and I let her go. Using both hands, she makes light work of my buttons, and when she pulls open my shirt I gasp, and my breathing returns and starts to accelerate.
Her hand hovers over my chest. She wants to touch me. Skin to skin. Flesh to flesh. Reaching deep within myself and relying on years of control, I steel myself for her touch.
“Yes,” I whisper my encouragement and tilt my head to one side.
Her fingertips are feather-light on my sternum, stirring my chest hair. My fear rises in my throat, leaving a knot I can’t swallow. Ana removes her hand, but I grab it, pressing it against my skin. “No, I need to.” My voice is low and strained.
I must do this.
I’m doing it for her.
She flattens her palm on me, then traces a line with her fingertips to my heart. Her fingers are gentle and warm, but they’re searing my skin. Marking me. I’m hers. I want to give her my love, and my trust.
I’m yours, Ana.
Whatever you want.
I’m aware I’m panting, dragging air into my lungs.
Ana shifts, her eyes darkening. She runs her fingers over me again and then places her hands on my knees and leans forward.
Fuck. I close my eyes. This will be hard to bear. I tilt my head up. Waiting. And I feel her lips, with acute tenderness, plant a kiss over my heart.
It’s excruciating. It’s hell. But it’s Ana, here, loving me.
“Again,” I whisper. She leans in and kisses me above my heart. I know what she’s doing. I know where she’s kissing me. She does it again, and then again. Her lips landing soft and gentle on each of my scars. I know where they are. I know where they’ve been since the day they were burned into my body. And here she is, doing what no one’s ever done. Kissing me. Accepting me. Accepting this dark, dark side of me.