“Christian!” she sobs.
“Hush,” I whisper, and, holding her close, I’m relieved to feel her small, delicate frame pressed against me. I’m grateful for everything that she is to me.
Ana. My love.
I bury my face in her hair and inhale her sweet, sweet scent. She raises her beautiful, tearstained face to me and I plant a quick kiss on her soft lips. “Hi,” I whisper.
“Hi,” she says, hoarse and husky.
“A bit.” She sniffles.
“I can tell.” I wipe her tears away with my fingers.
“I thought. I thought—” She sobs.
“I can see. Hush. I’m here. I’m here.” I hold her close and kiss her again. Her lips are always so tender when she’s been crying.
“Are you okay?” she asks, and her hands are on me. Everywhere, it feels. But I don’t mind; I welcome her touch. The darkness is long gone.
“I’m okay. I’m not going anywhere.”
“Oh, thank God.” She wraps her arms around my waist and holds me.
Damn. I need a shower. But she doesn’t seem to care.
“Are you hungry? Do you need something to drink?” she asks.
She tries to step back, but I’m not ready to release her. I hold her and extend a hand to the photographer, who’s hovering.
“Mr. Grey,” says José.
“Christian, welcome back. Glad you’re okay, and, um—thanks for letting me stay.”
“No problem.” Just keep your hands off my girl.
Gail interrupts us. She looks a mess. She’s been crying, too.
Shit. Mrs. Jones? It rocks me to my soul.
“Can I get you something, Mr. Grey?” She’s dabbing her eyes with a tissue.
“A beer, please, Gail. Budvar, and a bite to eat.”
“I’ll get it,” Ana says.
“No. Don’t go.” I tighten my arm around her.
The Kavanagh kids are next: Ethan and Katherine. I shake his hand and give Katherine a peck on the cheek. She looks well. Barbados and Elliot obviously agree with her. Mrs. Jones returns and hands me a beer. I refuse the glass and take a long draft of Budvar.
It tastes so good.
All these people are here for me. I feel like the long-lost prodigal son.
Perhaps I am…
“Surprised you don’t want something stronger,” says Elliot. “So, what the fuck happened to you? First I knew was when Dad called me to say the chopper was missing.”
“Elliot!” Grace admonishes him.
“Helicopter!” For fuck’s sake, Elliot. I hate the word “chopper.” He knows that. He grins, and I find myself grinning back at him.
“Let’s sit and I’ll tell you.” I sit down with Ana beside me and the clan joins us. I take a long draft of my beer and spot Taylor in the background. I give him a nod and he nods back.
Thank God he’s not crying. I don’t think I could cope with that.
“Your daughter?” I ask him.
“She’s fine now. False alarm, sir.”
“Glad you’re back, sir. Will that be all?”
“We have a helicopter to pick up.”
“Now? Or will the morning do?”
“Morning, I think, Taylor.”
“Very good, Mr. Grey. Anything else, sir?”
I shake my head and raise my bottle to him. I can brief him in the morning. He gives me a warm smile and leaves us.
“Christian, what happened?” Carrick asks.
Sitting on the sofa I begin to regale them with the executive summary of my crash landing.
“A fire? Both engines?” Carrick is shocked.
“Shit! But I thought—” Dad continues.
“I know,” I interrupt him. “It was sheer luck I was flying so low.”
Ana shudders beside me and I put my arm around her. “Cold?” I ask her, and she squeezes my hand and shakes her head.
“How did you put out the fire?” asks Katherine.
“Extinguisher. We have to carry them—by law,” I answer, but she’s so brusque. I don’t tell her that I used the fire bottles.
“Why didn’t you call or use the radio?” Mom asks.
I explain that I had to switch everything off because of the fire. With the electronics out, I couldn’t radio and we had no cell coverage. Ana tenses beside me. I lift her onto my lap.
“So how did you get back to Seattle?” Mom says, and I tell them about Seb.
“Took forever. He didn’t have a cell, weird but true. I didn’t realize.” I look around at the concerned faces of my family and stop at Mom’s.
“That we’d worry? Oh, Christian! We’ve been going out of our minds!” She’s pissed, and for the first time I feel a tad guilty. Flynn’s lecture on strong familial ties for adoptees comes to mind.
“You’ve made the news, bro,” says Elliot.
“Yeah. I figured that much when I arrived to this reception, and the handful of photographers outside. I’m sorry, Mom—I should have asked the driver to stop so I could phone. But I was anxious to be back.”
Grace shakes her head. “I’m just glad you’re back in one piece, darling.”
Ana sags against me. She must be tired.
“Both engines?” Carrick mutters again, with disbelief.
“Go figure.” I shrug and run my hand down Ana’s back. She’s sniffling again.