Unseen by them both, I roll my eyes.
“I’m fine, Kate. More than fine. Please, Christian and I are good, really good—this is old news. Please ignore it,” Ana pleads with her.
“Ignore it?” she says. “How can I ignore that? What’s he done to you?”
“He hasn’t done anything to me, Kate. Honestly—I’m good.”
“Really?” she asks.
For fuck’s sake.
I wrap my arm around Ana and stare at Katherine, trying and probably failing to keep the animosity out of my expression. “Ana has consented to be my wife, Katherine.”
“Wife!” she exclaims, her eyes widening in disbelief.
“We’re getting married. We’re going to announce our engagement this evening,” I inform her.
“Oh!” Katherine stares at Ana, stunned. “I leave you alone for sixteen days, and this happens? It’s very sudden. So yesterday, when I said—” She stops. “Where does that e-mail fit into all this?”
“It doesn’t, Kate. Forget it—please. I love him and he loves me. Don’t do this. Don’t ruin his party and our night,” Ana begs.
Katherine’s eyes fill with tears.
Shit. She’s going to cry.
“No. Of course I won’t. You’re okay?”
“I’ve never been happier,” Ana whispers, and my heart quickens.
Katherine grabs her hand, even though I still have my arm wrapped around Ana.
“You really are okay?” she asks, her voice full of hope.
“Yes.” Ana sounds happier and she shrugs out of my hold to hug her.
“Oh, Ana—I was so worried when I read this. I didn’t know what to think. Will you explain it to me?” she asks.
“One day, not now.”
“Good. I won’t tell anyone. I love you so much, Ana, like my own sister. I just thought—” She shakes her head. “I didn’t know what to think. I’m sorry. If you’re happy, then I’m happy.” Katherine looks at me. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to intrude.”
I give her a nod. Maybe she does care about Ana, but how Elliot puts up with her I’ll never know.
“I really am sorry. You’re right, it’s none of my business,” she whispers to Ana. There’s a knock that startles us all, and my mom pokes her head around the door.
“Everything okay, darling?” Mom asks, looking directly at me.
“Everything’s fine, Mrs. Grey,” Katherine offers.
“Fine, Mom,” I respond.
She expresses her relief as she enters the room. “Then you won’t mind if I give my son a birthday hug.” She gives us all a broad smile and walks into my waiting arms. I hold her close. “Happy birthday, darling,” she says. “I’m so glad you’re still with us.”
“Mom, I’m fine.” I look into her warm hazel eyes and they’re shining with maternal love.
“I’m so happy for you,” she says, and she holds her palm against my cheek.
Mom. I love you.
She steps out of my embrace. “Well, kids, if you’ve all finished your tête-à-tête, there’s a throng of people here to check that you really are in one piece, Christian, and to wish you a happy birthday.”
“I’ll be right there.”
Mom looks from Katherine to Ana, satisfied, I think, that nothing is amiss. She winks at Ana as she holds open the door for all of us. Ana takes my hand.
“Christian, I really do apologize,” Katherine says.
I acknowledge her with the briefest of nods and we walk into the hallway.
“Does your mother know about us?” asks Ana.
Ana raises her eyebrows. “Oh. Well, that was an interesting start to the evening.”
“As ever, Miss Steele, you have a gift for understatement.” I kiss her knuckles and we step into the living room.
A deafening, spontaneous round of applause erupts as we enter.
Shit. So many people! Why so many people? My family. Kavanagh’s brother, Flynn and his wife. Mac! Bastille. Mia’s friend Lily and her mother. Ros and Gwen. Elena.
Elena catches my attention with a little salute while she applauds. I’m distracted by my mom’s housekeeper. She’s carrying a tray of champagne. I squeeze Ana’s hand and let it go as the applause dies down.
“Thank you, everyone. Looks like I’ll need one of these.” I take two flutes, and hand a glass to Ana.
I raise my glass in tribute to the room. Everyone moves forward, overzealous and eager to greet me because of yesterday’s accident. Elena is first to reach us, and I take Ana’s free hand. “Christian, I was so worried.” Elena kisses me on both cheeks before I have a chance to react. Ana tries to free her hand but I tighten my hold on her.
“I’m good, Elena,” I respond.
“Why didn’t you call me?” She sounds aggravated, her eyes searching mine.
“I’ve been busy.”
“Didn’t you get my messages?”
I let go of Ana’s hand and put my arm around her shoulder, instead pulling her to me.
Elena gives Ana a smile. “Ana,” she purrs. “You look lovely, dear.”
“Elena. Thank you.” Ana’s tone is saccharine and insincere.
Could this be any more awkward?
I catch Mom’s eye and she frowns, looking at the three of us.
“Elena, I need to make an announcement,” I tell her.